By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
ALL but five registered and trained clinical nurses returned to work yesterday bringing an end to a “peculiar” “sick out,” which affected patient care at public medical facilities throughout the country, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday, adding “tension” remains over this matter.
However, Bahamas Nurses Union President Amancha Williams told The Tribune some nurses were still sick while others reported for duty. Ms Williams was adamant during a passionate interview that the issues far exceeded a 12-hour shift system foreign nurses who are not a part of the union have been asked to work.
The matters of contention range from the failure of successive administrations to confirm nurses, outstanding mileage and hardship allowances, a four to 20 nurse to patient ratio and the overall treatment of nurses among other things.
She said nurses were waiting for the issues to be resolved as was promised in an earlier conversation with Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis.
Ms Williams also accused Dr Sands of portraying nurses as “heartless”.
Speaking ahead of Cabinet yesterday, Dr Sands said the country will have to address how sick outs are used as a tool by workers in the country.
Meanwhile, Progressive Liberal Party Leader Philip “Brave” Davis said the political directorate must be more responsive to the concerns of nurses.
According to a breakdown from the Ministry of Health obtained by The Tribune on Monday, 213 nurses – 100 from Princess Margaret Hospital, Sandilands and Rand Memorial Hospital – and 113 from clinics in New Providence and those in the Family Islands – phoned in to report illnesses preventing them from coming to work.
“At the Princess Margaret Hospital, we would have had a total of five people call in thus far, but that is probably not anything other than the usual. So it appears as if the nurses are no longer ill,” Dr Sands told reporters yesterday.
He also said: “We recognise that there is only so long that you could continue that. And so the fact that it appears that the nurses are back to work is a wonderful thing.
“We will sit down at the table again and we will continue the negotiations and discussions. There is an obligatory tension that while the union may want a particular benefit for its membership, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the people of the Bahamas or the government of the Bahamas has to capitulate to every single demand. We understand that demands can be reasonable, but some demands can be unreasonable or the timeline is not appropriate.
“But I am open. I will give Ms Williams a call today (yesterday). She and I were able to speak yesterday (Monday) afternoon and this is never personal. The union must do what the union must do, but the minister and the government must also do what it must do to protect the interest of the Bahamian people.”
Regarding BNU’s grievances, Dr Sands said some of the issues were resolved.
“We have been actively involved in dealing with the chronic issues plaguing nurses. The issue of mileage allowance would have been brought up. We employed the help of the Director of Labour (Robert Farquharson). We would have seen to it that some $55,000 of outstanding mileage accrual for a group of nurses was placed on the pay sheet and the expectation was that they should have had that money in their accounts last payday.
“We now need to confirm whether those instructions were carried out by finance and treasury. But certainly, if it was not on the pay sheet in April I am advised that it will definitely be on the pay sheet in May.
“In terms of the confirmation of nurses three years, five years, ten years - we have moved aggressively to deal with these issues that have been outstanding for a decade. The matter of the four on four off (work roster), the Public Hospitals Authority had not implemented the change in shift system. And so, to disadvantage the public of the basis of a conversation to me is unfortunate.”
Ms Williams seemed yesterday to take issue with Dr Sands’ public pronouncements about the matter. She said nurses simply wanted their problems to be fixed.
She said: “I have spoken to the prime minister. He assured me that this would take place.
“The mileage was not paid and you are making the public believe we are heartless. We realise that we are the gatekeepers. But the government must realise that these gatekeepers have families. Who is looking out for us when we look out for everyone else?
“We haven’t had hurricane payment and the hurricane season is about to start again. There has been no confirmation of nurses since 2012. Nurses can’t go to the bank for a house.
“We aren’t blaming this government. We are blaming the two (previous) governments, but we are asking the minister to fix it.”
For his part during a press conference yesterday, Mr Davis said the approach must be in the context of acknowledging nurses trained in the Bahamas are being poached and offered better emoluments and salaries overseas, adding the government should be sensitive to their issues.
“Stop just describing the problems and start prescribing solutions,” Mr Davis said yesterday.