Patients left bleeding, women nearing labour discharged, medical files, keys and vital drugs and equipment locked away or hidden – these were some of the terrible results of a week-long strike by nurses locked in overlapping disputes with midwives and doctors. The misery for patients is far from over. Most nurses are back to work [...]


Helpless patients left bleeding, told to go home as nurses strike


Patients left bleeding, women nearing labour discharged, medical files, keys and vital drugs and equipment locked away or hidden – these were some of the terrible results of a week-long strike by nurses locked in overlapping disputes with midwives and doctors.
The misery for patients is far from over.

Most nurses are back to work in many hospitals but not all, and their union is signalling the risk of renewed strikes. Meanwhile the midwives’ union now says it might suspend its services over its distress at receiving patients left in a bad way due to lack of care by striking nurses, as well as returning them to hospitals where the strike would leave them without care.

The biggest impact has been on rural hospitals where no alternative medical facilities are available for patients in agony and pain.
Patients who turned up for treatment found that due to the strike some clinics had been cancelled or their medical files locked up and the keys not available for doctors to gain access to their records and treat them.

“I arrived at the hospital at 4am as I had to attend a clinic at the Kandy hospital but was told to come again in two weeks. Only the poor have to go through these difficulties,” Senarath Adhikari of Digana told the Sunday Times.

In some cases, nurses have concealed the keys of drug stores and other essential equipment such as oxygen tanks, saline, surgical instruments and syringes in most of the hospitals including the Colombo National Hospital.

In some places, drug labels were altered.

At Kuliyapitiya Base Hospital 18 pregnant women were discharged last week.

“Although my niece was given dates for her delivery on May 22, a doctor who checked her advised us to admit her to the hospital immediately. Now she is bleeding and where can we take her in this condition? Both her life and the baby’s are in danger,” said a relative of one patient who was discharged without being able to receive care.

Patients at the Renal Unit at the Kandy Teaching hospital who came from distant areas such as Bakamuna, Mahiyangana and Matale had been sent back without treatment.

Patients claimed that a dialysis patient who started blood transfusions could survive only three four days without treatment. “We have been here since last morning leaving behind our kids at home, but they won’t allow us to get treatment,” said a patient at Kandy Hospital, wiping away her tears.

The nurses at Kurunegala Teaching Hospital who extended their trade union action are reportedly returning to work today (11). This was after they had a meeting with Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundara on Friday.

Kurunegala Teaching Hospital Director Dr. Palitha D. Yapa said the hospital was currently functioning with the support of doctors, paramedical staff, midwives and other minor staff.

“We could manage 18 caesarian operations this Wednesday and more than 800 warded patients without the help of nurses,” Dr Yapa said.

Kandy Hospital Deputy Director Dr. Susil Siriwardana said , “During the three days of the strike the ICU, theatres and Baby Unit were functioning but no services could be given at the dialysis unit. Only two dialysis machines out of 35 were operating to treat the worst off patients,” he added.

“Out of the 1000 patients registered at the dialysis unit, 100 kidney patients a day are being treated and we received patients from Kurunegala and Anuradhapura hospitals too. So those patients suffered a lot of hardship and inconvenience due to the strike.”
The Colombo, Anuradhapura and Karapitiya Teaching Hospitals asserted that they were conducting all the duties as usual since Tuesday.

“Even during the strike, nurses unofficially carried out duties in wards. The situation didn’t get worse here as we do not have a maternity section,” said the Director of Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, Dr. Shelton Perera.

The President of Government Midwifery Service Association (GMSA) Devika Kodithuwakku said that the midwives’ duties had suffered immense disruption due to the nurses’ strike.

She said problems had been reported from hospitals at Matara, Kalutara, Wariyapola and Kuliyapitya.

“Unless a solution is given we are compelled to remove the midwives from their field duties,” she said.

“We are not ready to put mothers who were taken care of by us into situations of risk at hospitals nor to accept mothers who have not been properly attended by nurses after being discharged.”

Mrs. Kodithuwakku said the union is to hold a protest in front of the Ministry of Health tomorrow.

Government Nursing Officers Association (GNOA) President Saman Rathnapriya said: “We have temporally called off the trade union action considering the state of inconvenienced patients and the appointment of a committee headed by the Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundara.

He called on doctors to end their protest against the education rights of nurses. Doctors are refusing to allow nursing students to undergo midwifery and psychiatric training and complete their clinical training session.

“The director of Angoda Hospital informed the nursing school in writing not to send nursing students to the hospital for the clinical psychiatric training,” Mr. Rathnapriya said.

“As the committee was summoned this Wednesday we hope that a good solution will come about. If not, we have to resume trade union action next week,” Mr. Rathnapriya said.

The spokesperson for the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) Dr. Nalinda Herath asserted that special training such as midwifery and psychiatric trainings have to be on par with the experience of the staff.

The opinion of the College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology was that midwifery training should not be included in the basic training for the nurses but in post-basic training.

“As per the usual process, a selected number of nursing staff with four years of service experience are given midwifery training so that they could support nursing care for complicated deliveries,” he explained.

“When we consider the expenses for health care in this country, extending the training period to undergo some more special training is not cost-effective at all. So once they enter into service we can provide training in all the categories depending on requirements and feasibility,” said Dr. Herath.

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