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posted 31 Dec 2014, 17:21 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 31 Dec 2014, 17:40 ]



The National Health Workers Union (NHWU) was registered as a trade union on 25th June 2014 and is actively recruiting members in ALL Regional Health Authorities. The NHWU is seeking to provide representation to all monthly rated health workers except doctors at South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA).

The union is horrified by the unwarranted attack by the Medical Director of SWRHA (who was recently acting CEO) particularly against Registered Nurses (RNs) and other categories of staff at the RHA. The NHWU urges citizens to pay particular attention to the issues affecting health workers as they are the exact same problems affecting quality health care delivery to you.

Mr. Anand Chattergoon’s tirade focused on allegations of high absenteeism of RN’s over the Christmas period. His comments and those of the Minister of Health, as reported by the media, give the false impression that more than fifty per cent of the RN’s who were rostered to work at the San Fernando General Hospital failed to show up. This is contrary to the information received by the union.

Moreover Mr. Chattergoon’s comments do not take into account statements made by his boss Mr. Anil Gosine at the SWRHA Public Board meeting at the San Fernando City Hall auditorium on November 6th 2014 that there are THREE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED AND THIRTEEN (3413) vacancies and specifically NINE HUNDRED and Ninety-Two (992) nursing vacancies at SWRHA.

This situation alone speaks volumes. This MUST result in long hours, excessive overtime, tired workers, denial of legitimate leave etc. and this must negatively impact the quality of health care to the population.

NHWU reproduces a statement in full by nurses employed at SWRHA.

“Instead of accepting management’s responsibility for the chaos nurses are being accused of having poor work ethics, of not caring for the patients or our colleagues and of fraudulently producing sick leave certificates and staying away from duty. We have maintained our professionalism during these unwarranted attacks but we have decided that it is time for us to speak out and let the nation know what is going on since Mr. Chattergoon is deliberately withholding pertinent information.

Mr Chattergoon has claimed that the nurses agreed to open the San Fernando Teaching Hospital but we are now complaining of being short staffed. However, we were never consulted about opening the hospital, neither were we consulted about relocating the wards and separating each ward into two, while using the same staff.

Anyone who understands the structure of the SWRHA and by extension the Ministry of Health would know that nurses are not consulted on any decision, even those that directly affect us. Any conversation about this took place between different arms of management and NOT with nurses and other rank and file employees of the RHA.

To compound this, rather than deal with the many issues plaguing the health care system, Mr. Fuad Khan is threatening to bring more foreign nurses into our system to replace local nurses. The attitudes of these two gentlemen serve to give the general public the impression that we, despite being consulted about issues concerning us, being handsomely remunerated for our efforts, and exposed to excellent working conditions in a well managed system, choose to be delinquent.

Prior to the Teaching Hospital being opened nurses were already severely short staffed. The influx of Cuban nurses has done little to alleviate the problem for two main reasons: apart from the obvious one of the language barrier; some of these nurses have not received registration numbers from the nursing council of Trinidad and Tobago.

 Our nurses cannot go to any other country and practice without numbers since it is illegal for any nurse in any country to practice without a number. Having no registration number relegates you to the status of student. This means that local nurses, although already understaffed, are forced to monitor and overseer the work being done by these Cuban nurses, even going so far as having to countersign every procedure they document, therefore adding to our workload.

According to the World Health Organisation, the nurse to patient ratio is one nurse to six patients. This is the recommended ratio to ensure quality care is given. At San Fernando General Hospital the nurse to patient ratio is most times closer to one nurse for twenty two patients. This is unsafe and puts both the nurse and the patients under her care at risk.

The Paediatric and Medical wards that have been moved over to the Teaching Hospital have all been separated in two. This means where there may have been one ward with twenty nurses you now have two wards with ten. When you factor in the different shifts and people’s days off, it is easy to see why we are short. When you have seven or eight nurses on a daylight shift and two stay home it is not difficult to run the wards and patients may not even be aware of the shortage. However when you now have three nurses on a daylight shift and the same two nurses stay home the result is that one nurse cannot function alone on a ward.

The layout of the Paediatric wards means that on any given shift there should be six nurses on duty in order to properly monitor patients. That has never happened since the wards were opened because there just isn’t sufficient staff which means one nurse is responsible for manning two, sometimes three suites, (there are four patients to a suite) even when there are critically ill patients requiring one on one nursing.

Overwork, frustration and a total lack of respect by those in authority for our efforts coupled with a lack of appreciation for all of us who work overtime and extra duty for minimal compensation in order to keep the hospital running is what we tolerate every day. No mention has been made of those of us who supplement the pool system; even though the pool system is the reason the Teaching Hospital has not come to a screeching halt.

Notwithstanding the effort made by nursing personnel to go the extra mile SWRHA still refuses to pay traditional overtime rates for the extra hours.

Anyone who knows anything about management understands that the greatest motivator is not money. Rather, the greatest motivator is acknowledgement of a job well done and appreciation when employees go above and beyond the call of duty. It would therefore do these goodly gentlemen well to stop pointing fingers and laying unfair blame at the feet of the hardworking nurses and accept responsibility for the problems plaguing the health care system due to gross mismanagement by the powers that be.”


Gerry Kangalee, Education and Research Officer National Workers Union 785 7637

Gerry Kangalee,
31 Dec 2014, 17:21