Nurses in Jamaica Stage Sickout As COVID-19 Hospitalizations Rise

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Nurses stayed away from work at several hospitals across Jamaica on Wednesday and Thursday, even as COVID-19 hospitalizations rise across the country.

The nurses are reported to be upset at the working conditions amid increased pressure on the health system from the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations, among other concerns.

Tufton told The Gleaner newspaper that the health ministry was assessing the scale of the sickout and several hospitals said the Regional Director of the Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA), Michael Bent, said staff members have been redeployed to cover the shortage created by the industrial action by the nurses.

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The clinical coordinator for the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA), Dr Delroy Fray questioned whether the action by the nurses is linked to at least 27 nurses being exposed to COVID-19 at the Cornwall Regional Hospital on Monday.

“The nurses at Cornwall are very responsible. I don’t think at this time in this pandemic they would go on any industrial action. Some nurses were exposed to COVID and were in quarantine. I don’t know if that is related to that. I don’t have the details about why…but I suspect that is what it is,” he told the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

NAJ President Patsy Edwards-Henry told The Gleaner that she was unaware of the sickout even as the newspaper said it had information that she urged aggrieved parties to make contact with her through the NAJ offices.

“What I will not do is be drawn into a fight with nurses on social media. If we treat each other with toxicity, it will be difficult for others to treat us with respect,” Edwards-Henry said.

Media reports said that the industrial action was triggered over complaints about working conditions and remarks from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that no group, including health workers, would receive priority at hospitals if they were to contract COVID-19.

Holness made the remark during a news conference last Thursday and the main opposition People’s National Party (PNP) said it is deeply concerned about the availability of full service in the public healthcare system and called for the situation to be resolved as soon as possible.

In a joint statement the Opposition Spokesperson on Health, Dr Morais Guy, and Spokesperson on Public Service, Lambert Brown, said that Prime Minister Holness should immediately withdraw his remarks as a basis for ending the sickout by the nurses and a return to normality in the health sector.

They expressed solidarity with the health workers, saying that in spite of their dedication and selfless work, they have been experiencing major frustration with regards to their benefits.

The opposition spokespersons said special consideration for groups of workers in the public sector was quite usual, and nurses were due special treatment because of their role in the pandemic and the extraordinary responsibilities they carry in the overburdened hospital system.

In addition, they said their condition of service has drastically fallen during the fight against COVID-19 with shortages of vital supplies including Personal Protective Equipment, extra-long hours and staff shortages.

The two opposition spokespersons say Prime Minister Holness should not pour salt in the open wound and disrespect the services of the nurses.

“The Prime Minister must therefore act responsibly to bring back normality to the public healthcare system,” they said.

“Whatever the issues are, you have to start with dialogue. We cannot all be shouting without a clear plan.”

Dr Christopher Tufton later stated that should any healthcare worker contract the virus, they will receive prompt medical attention. Tufton also stated that the government recognizes that it is in the best interest of the country to ensure that all frontline workers are protected against COVID-19.