Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands.
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
AS the Public Hospitals Authority has found itself saddled with high overtime bills - at one time climbing to $750,000 in just one month - Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said the controversial shift system for nurses has been a vexing issue.
Giving nurses what they want is not easy, he said yesterday, as paying money owed to them is tied to the civil service which has restrictions on how much the government can offer or how quickly this happens.
However, he said officials have been looking at how they could possibly change the compensation for nurses.
While stressing yesterday another strike would not serve the interests of Bahamians, the minister said the government was committed to finding a real solution to the issues raised by the Bahamas Nurses Union.
A panel was appointed to look at their outstanding issues and some changes made, Dr Sands said. The changes included replacing old beds at public health care facilities to address nurses complaints about back injuries. There is also about to be installation of more than ten new stations for clocking in after nurses complained those already in the hospital were not functioning properly.
His comments to the press came yesterday ahead of a statement from PHA that it was willing to re-engage the BNU in discussions over the standardised shift system. At present, of all of the PHA’s existing categories of staff, only the nursing cadre’s work schedule remains out of step with widely accepted practice, the statement further pointed out.
This statement also comes several days after BNU president Amancha Williams said talks between nurses and PHA were at an impasse.
“I’m not aware there was an impasse,” Dr Sands told reporters. “Certainly, this has not been a topical matter over the last few weeks to months. Certainly, the discussions have been more focused on the way forward in terms of retention, recruitment (and) improving the conditions of service for nurses.
“We would have had a panel to look at the outstanding issues regarding nursing in the Bahamas. We want to drill down on the specific concerns. So changing out the beds at the hospital is a major issue because of the problems with movement, back injuries and so on.
“Looking at safety, looking at being able to clock in. Nurses complained that when they clock in sometimes they have to wait ten or 15 minutes. We’re about to instal more than ten new stations to make that a bit easier.
“We’ve been looking at how we could possibly change the compensation for nurses at a very fundamental level.
“This vexing issue of the shift system gets at the very heart of the challenge that the PHA had a $750,000 overtime bill for one month and that is not sustainable and the imposition on the people of The Bahamas is huge and we now have to work together in the interest of finding some common ground as to how we can control this runaway expenditure.”
In its statement yesterday, PHA maintained the shift system has many benefits, in clear conflict with Ms Williams’ position on it. On Friday, she insisted no nurse would work under the system.
“Late last year, the PHA announced that it would defer its original implementation date of December 10, 2018,” the statement said. “While no new implementation date was given, the authority maintained that it was open to further discussions with the BNU in an effort to arrive at a compromise regarding the amount of compensation proposed via a shift premium, recognising that the authority has limited financial resources to support this initiative,” the statement read.
“The original proposal provided compensation for nurses scheduled to work between the hours of 6pm to 6am of $1.75 per hour in addition to their regular pay.
“The PHA maintains that the successful implementation of the new shift system will: establish a standardised eight-hour daily shift and a 40-hour work week which greatly improves our ability to roster nurses; improve the delivery of healthcare and ensure better patient outcomes through better nursing coverage; reduce the number of accidents and errors given the reduced hours of work during the night shift — eight hours compared to ten and eliminate inequities of the current night shift system that allows nurses to work four days then be awarded four nights off, resulting in night duty nurses to be on paid leave for 77 more days per year compared to nurses that work day shifts.”