A few days ago we published an interview with Lt Col Binu Sharma, VP Nursing Services at Columbia Asia. As a doctor, this was the first time that I had spoken to someone in detail about the situation of nurses in the country and what I heard and eventually published, broke my heart.
My grandmother retired from the health ministry in the 80’s. One of the last stints she did was as the senior librarian at the Rajkumari Amritkaur college of nursing in Delhi. One of my earlier memories of nurses was seeing the nursing students study for their exams in the library.
When I entered Manipal, I soon realized that nurses were the backbone of the dental department. The best way to get quick help chair side was to have a friendly nurse close-by. In most cases the nurses knew more than the junior doctors. I saw similar pattern while on rounds in Kasturbha Hospital while completing Medicine an Surgery Modules in the third year.
Today according to the National Health Profile of 2015, there are 1.9 lakh hospitals in India, while there are only 25 Lakh nurses. The ratio is very skewed and shows we have a acute shortage of nurses. If market forces were allowed to operate, nurses would be one of the highest paid executives on the country. But somehow I fail to understand how despite the shortage, nurses remain poorly paid. Not only that they have long hours, overtime and still get very poor working conditions. According to a study by IIM Ahmadabad under the 7th pay commission, Government nurses are better paid as well as have access to better benefits like health insurance.
I was reading this piece by BJP Member of Parliament, Meenakshi Lekhi in the Week, July 2nd Issue, where she says that cities like Delhi don’t have a directorate of nursing despite being allocated Rs 1 Crore in the plan. But there is a change according to her. The Supreme Court in India has through a judgement asked for the creation of a central government committee to oversee the growth of nursing in the country. They have also provisioned for the setting up of the Trained Nurses Association of India. One of the recommendations it to establish a basic pay of Rs 20,000 per nurse and ensure that private hospitals do not pay below the government for their nursing staff.
I believe corporate hospitals like Columbia Asia have done well to establish a nursing leadership. I can see that a combination of government action and activism among the nursing community is the only way to improve their working standards and make this profession attractive to the millennials. Whether these result in gains and change the situation is something that only time shall tell.
As Ms Lekhi puts it in her article “Underpaid and over worked employees are bound not to perform to the best of their abilities”The last thing we want is an under performing nursing function in the healthcare ecosystem.