Striking nurses say their fight also for public

Nurses who have been striking for the past eight weeks are insisting that they are not fighting for themselves alone, but also to ensure a better healthcare system for Barbadians.

Insisting that the healthcare workers have not abandoned or neglected patients, Chairman of the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) Nurses Division Gillian Dowrich said they were agitating for better conditions for all.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, she insisted they could not take the best care of their patients, whom they see as family, if they do not have access to necessary tools or if they operate in an unsafe environment.

“The nurses are suffering and we want to let the public know that this fight is for them because if we don’t have things to work with, we cannot give adequate healthcare in Barbados. They need to pour some funds into healthcare so that nurses can feel comfortable at work, so that nurses can have a voice in Barbados and advocate for the patients. The patients are why we are here. This is for Barbados; this is not for only the nurses,” Dowrich contended, adding that since starting her career in 2006, nothing has been done to enhance the working conditions for nurses.

“When we do not give adequate care because of a lack of adequate resources, we have a conscience and our conscience needs to be clear when we go home. I don’t think – and the nurses in Unity [Workers’ Union] do not think – that we should have to pull our pockets and provide materials for patients to use any longer, because our salaries are minute, they do not match our qualifications, and we have been trying to get this to the forefront.”

The nurses began industrial action in December 2021 after their colleagues at the Geriatric Hospital received a memo from the hospital management informing them of the commencement of weekly COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated employees in accordance with the Safe Zone Directive No. 2, 2021. The then Health Minister Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bostic subsequently said the memo was sent prematurely, as the proposed Safe Zones would not yet take effect.

“Our fight was brought to [public] attention because of the Safe Zones, but how can you make these zones safe if there is a lack of security, if there is the lack of functioning equipment, if there is a lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

“They said there is no problem with PPE but yet nurses are given five masks per week. There are no gloves; if the nurses want to work, they have to buy their own gloves. I remember one of my colleagues stating that she had to reuse a nasogastric tube, something that is only for one-time use. Now you are putting the nurse’s licence at risk. How can we deliver safe care if we don’t have gauze, if we don’t have wool?” Dowrich questioned.

She stressed that the nurses had rushed to General Secretary of the UWU Caswell Franklyn for help because they felt let down and misrepresented by other trade unions and associations.

Dowrich said the nurses are tired of being disrespected and undervalued, and while they have been condemned by some in authority and the general public for the strike action, they intend to stick to their guns to see their longstanding grievances addressed.

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