Kolkata: Hit by a flight of nurses to government hospitals and other states, private hospitals in the city have been forced to fall back on ‘nursing assistants’ or attendants.
More than 100 of them have been appointed at Covid wards of at least four facilities since September, when nurses started quitting in large numbers. So far, more than 700 nurses — mostly experienced staff who had been working at the ICUs — have resigned from a dozen private hospitals across Kolkata, leaving them in the lurch.
Recruitment of nurses for ICUs has been slow due to a paucity of skilled, experienced staff. “We have been forced to scale up the number of our nursing assistants, who are trained to attend to the patients, at the Covid ward. Since they are not qualified nurses, they are not allowed to dispense medicines, monitor patients or communicate with doctors. They act as facilitators, helping patients to the toilet, changing their clothes, alerting nurses and doctors if they need help,” said Peerless Hospital CEO Sudipta Mitra.
Peerless has appointed 40 nursing attendants since October. The hospital has been running short of ICU nurses since last month.
AMRI Hospitals, which had scaled down the number of its nursing assistants to 80, have recruited 40 again. “Since we have moved all our experienced nurses to the Covid ICUs, where they are needed the most, there is a shortage of staff at the Covid wards. Without assistants, it will be difficult to serve patients at the wards with a reduced nursing workforce. But we ensure they are not involved in clinical services,” said AMRI CEO Rupak Barua.
A south Kolkata private hospital has asked patients at the Covid ward not to expect nurses’ help round-the-clock. “While we have just about enough nurses for the ICU, the number is inadequate at the ward. Nursing assistants, too, are few since we haven’t yet been able to recruit enough. Patients have been complaining frequently about lack of assistance. We have asked them to try and do small chores, like pouring a glass of water, on their own,” said an official of the hospital.
Ruby General Hospital, too, has been forced to fall back on nursing assistants after a fresh batch of 40 nurses — that had passed out from its own nursing course in September — refused to join. The hospital has been using the assistants both at the outpatient and inpatient departments, but strictly for non-clinical work. “They are not allowed to inject patients or administer medicines. They are merely filling in the gap created by the flight of nurses and are there to provide physical assistance to patients. Some of our nursing assistants also help doctors at the OPD,” said Ruby Hospital general manager-operations, Subhasish Datta. The hospital has around 35 nursing assistants and has been finding it difficult to recruit more since the pandemic began. “Like nurses, they have been reluctant to join as well,” Datta added.
Peerless has stepped up its nursing assistant training course to rope in more, expecting the crisis of nurses to last several more months. “While the flight of nurses happens every year, this year, due to Covid, replacements have not been coming in from the northeast, Kerala, Jharkhand and Odisha, which supply the bulk of our nurses,” said Mitra.
With the number of Covid patients climbing, using assistants at the wards, too, could be risky, pointed out a private hospital consultant. “It’s important to screen and gauge symptoms quickly at Covid wards, which an attendant is not trained to do,” he said.