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While salutations are pouring in online across the globe for nurses on this day of International Nurses Day, particularly in recognition of their unstinting service during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, president of the T&T Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA) Idi Stuart is appealing to the powers that be to have a little more regard and appreciation for nurses and the nursing profession in T&T.

Arguing there were so many things lacking from the nursing profession to make it more appealing to those wanting to join it, Stuart said from the stipend paid to nurse students to the lack thereof perks of the profession, these things have inevitably crippled and depreciated the occupation.

In a telephone interview, Stuart said there was a general under-appreciation for nurses and the profession in the country. He highlighted there also remained an unleveled playing field when it came to nurses and other essential workers.

Stuart said nurses work around the clock, and the evening shift, in particular, those working from midday to the night period, a number of them would have expressed difficulties in reaching home, particularly during the time of the stay at home order.

To alleviate this, Stuart said the association met with a few RHAs to provide transportation for these workers. However, the transportation would only take workers from the hospital to a city center and the nurse was on his or her own from there, which he said still proved a challenge as public transport would still be unavailable.

As a result, Stuart said nurses who had no alternative transport to reach their end destination; they would often have to dip in their pockets to hire transportation everyday while working those late shifts and those who could not afford to do that would negotiate to work double shifts while other slept in a particular area on the ward.

Stuart quipped “These kinds of situations could have been rectified years ago had the concerns by the association risen repeatedly in times passed, addressed.”

One of those issues Stuart highlighted was the none existence of nurses hostel. He said years ago they existed in each institution—Mt Hope, Port-of-Spain and the San Fernando hospitals, but they were left to decay and there were none anymore.

He said having hostels would have been very helpful to nurses during this pandemic.

“We also have to look in the future. If we have future outbreaks or natural disasters… actually with the earthquake in 2018, nurses were required to remain in the institution because they were concerned there might have been a large influx. These situations would come up from time to time and the larger our population gets or the more breakouts come— a nurses’ hostel is critical and key,” said Stuart.

He argued all other frontline professions such as the police, fire services, the army had their sleep in quarters, and even doctors still had their living quarters at the San Fernando, Port-of-Spain and Mt Hope hospitals, so it must be understood by the Government this was something standard for its essential services and it was unfortunate nurses were the only one who did not benefit.

He said the list of neglect of the needs of nurses was extensive highlighting they also do not get housing allotments like other essential workers do and they don’t fall into the 20-25 per cent allotment.

“A lot of people ask me why is nursing so far back or off than the rest of the professions in T&T and I struggle to answer that sometimes. I have my assumptions. But it cannot be that in T&T a nurse which one would expect to be living a comfortable life, there is no nurse in T&T on one salary, who can afford a house in T&T, there are no two nurses for that matter in T&T who can afford a house on the open market in T&T,” said Stuart.

According to him, nurses were working double and triple shifts just to make a decent living to afford them the ability to purchase a home.

He said the overworking of themselves brought with it a direct strain on nurses’ health and it was why nurses were now dying early in their tenure because they were not taking care of their health.

In his three-year presidential role of the association Stuart said he had noticed nursing personnel themselves while they have to preach certain things to their patients, because of the very nature of what they do, and because of the lack of concerns apparently from the powers that be, they are some of the most unhealthy persons, which is unfortunate.

He said in the NCRHA alone between January 2020 and March, five nurses died and none of them were over 50-years-old. And all of them died from illnesses, which could have been prevented had they been able to benefit from the same healthcare that the NCRHA provides.

He said what was odd; the NCRHA would have spearheaded a couple of programmes formerly where free executive medicals were offered to servicemen, the media, and in January this year to key Carnival stakeholders. But for its staff members Stewart claimed it was failing in keeping with the OSH Act mandatory annual assessments of healthcare staff.

He said if this was being done, it could have picked up all the illnesses those five nurses would have had and many more who would have died in different regions. He said it was also ironic that some of these nurses would have died while on duty including the most recent nurse Merlene Placide who died from an allergic reaction while on duty at the Caura Hospital in April.

“It is saddening that the one place you would have to think you would have survived an allergic reaction or the one place you would survive a CVA, would have been in a hospital and we were not even able to save our own colleagues’ lives,” said Stuart.