by Zena Henry
In a one-on-one with A Partnership for National Unity +Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Presidential candidate David Granger, local nurses within state-owned health institutions across the country pleaded for better work conditions, increased salaries and improved skills training once his party comes into government.
Granger met with a number of nurses at the Guyana Nurses Association at Alexander and Charlotte Streets, Tuesday April 28, where he listened to several issues which they say have plagued them for years without redress.
Nurses representing health care workers in Linden, Region 9, the East Bank, East Coast and the capital, among other areas, had basic concerns that their salary and work conditions were not allowing them to give good health care.
They spoke extensively about not being able to access their pension and only being paid gratuity. They complainedabout meager salaries and annual allowances such as GUY$13,000 for uniforms and footwear, GUY$5,000 monthly meal allowances and in some cases as little as GUY$500 risk allowance in some hazardous areas of work such as dealing with psychiatric patients.
Linden nurses said that they are not paid gratuity when they go on maternal leave, and even spoke about not being insured when using the facilities’ main mode of transport which is the ambulance. It was noted that only the attendant and driver are insured.
The Linden nurse said those health care workers are paid from GUY$40,000 to GUY$85,000 across the country and it is inadequate. The starting salary of a Registered Nurse is GUY$67,000 (after tax) at Georgetown Public Hospital.
It was recommended that nurses receive their pension when they retire, meal, uniform and footwear allowances be increased.
“Every day we go to work we put ourselves at risk from getting infections, dealing with unruly patients… We need better risk coverage,” the Opposition leader was told.
It was suggested that his government work to address housing problems for nurses because there is no point in distributing house lots, “when our salaries don’t afford us to build homes.”
She suggested too that nurses receive duty free concession like teachers do. It was advised that after numerous years of service this benefit could be afforded to the nation’s care givers.
Another issue for nurses was the fact that their overtime pay is being taxed. “Overtime means I am giving my personal time to fulfill a task; why then does my overtime have to be taxed?”
Granger heard about inadequate material to work and the constant pain of being blamed when something goes wrong.
The nursing schools are overcrowded and lack adequate tutors. “Every year we hear of high failure rates, the question must be asked then what is happening at those schools.”
Students of the nursing school said they are given exams knowing that they were not adequately trained in specific areas of practicality.
And to add to the strain, nurses say they when they get into the field they have to improvise because of the lack of basic items.
A nurse from the Diamond Diagnostic Centre urged that the biggest problem there is security since an incident there cannot be addressed by the “elderly watchmen and women” employed.
To a thunderous cheer, nurses representing the country’s main public health institution GPHC, demanded the scrapping of the Health Board, claiming that their policies contribute to the failure of the system and recommended that the institution by returned to the Public Service ministry, “like in the olden days.”
With his mother being a nurse and his sister a retired mid-wife, Granger expressed admiration for those in the field, claiming that, “it is obvious that these persons get into the profession for the love of care giving.”
Granger said everyone knows that nurses won’t be multi-millionaires, “like some of our ministers”, and that’s why the party understands their plea for basic necessities, better work conditions, better training and such.
He said he knows about “those” who call and give orders on their cell phones and if anything goes wrong the nurses are blamed. He said while he is unable to say what their pay increase would be, he guaranteed that their pay would be increased. “As you know, I belong to a six-party coalition. I would tell you this, I there will be an increase. I cannot say from now how much it will be,” he said.
The APNU+AFC coalition plans to increase government employees’ salaries by 10 percent and those of soldiers and police by 20 percent.
He spoke of having better training schools and facilities to keep nurses from going aboard. The political leader addressed many other issues but pleaded with the nurses to draft a petition to document their requests so that the “new government” would have something in writing to start working with.