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Fuad and nurses wage war of words
A war is now brewing between Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan and nurses, over legislation governing its profession and lack of equity with salary allowances. The conflict stems from the planned amendments to the Nurses and Midwives Registration Act, which will strip the powers of the T&T Nursing Council and restrict nurses from working abroad.
President of the T&T Registered Nurses’ Association Valerie Alleyne-Rawlins said instead of ironing out the issue, Khan opted to slash the composition of the council by half. To compound matters, Alleyne-Rawlins said she also heard reports that plans are in the pipeline to cut the nurses’ monthly incentive allowances. The allowance was given to nurses under former UNC minister of health Dr Hamza Rafeeq.
In the North West Regional Health Authority, the basic monthly salary of a nurse is $6,157, while the incentive allowance is $1,539.25. The basic salary of a nurse in the South West Regional Health Authority is listed at $6,117, while the incentive allowance is $1,500. Nurses also collect a living-out allowance of $100, while foreign nurses are given a $3,000 housing allowance.
The association is contending that Cuban and Philippine nurses are paid more than locals, stating that there was no equity. Insisting that public hospitals had an acute shortage of 7,000 nurses, Alleyne-Rawlins said Khan refused to have dialogue with both bodies to work things out. In a three-page document, dated July 26, 2011, sent to Khan, the association outlined their concerns and the impact it was having on the nursing population. They also put forward recommendations.
“In making efforts to have dialogue with the minister, the council has gotten very hostile responses,” Alleyne-Rawlins said. Alleyne-Rawlins said they were told that their views were of no merit. “That is not what we expected from a minister.” If they do not get a hearing, Alleyne-Rawlins said, “the young nurses are ready to go out on the streets. If you see them out in the streets tomorrow, we would not have been able to control them because they are really upset.”
She said the association has been holding back the nurses for over three months. A flyer distributed by nurses recently read, “Our noble nursing professional is under serious threat. Politics taking over from professionals.” On June 19, the nurses from various divisions marched in Fyzabad to air their grouses. And within hours of the march, the nurses pinned red ribbons on the sleeves of their uniforms to demonstrate their dissatisfaction.
Khan: No allowance removal
Khan on Friday promised there would be no allowance removal and that nurses will be treated better than before. “I am also looking to raise the incentive for housing allowance for local nurses.” In addition to this, Khan gave a commitment to provide day-care services at hospitals and bring more local nurses into the system to ease the workload and improve the country’s healthcare.
Khan said since he began reorganising the nursing council, which still has powers to regulate and monitor the profession, as well as license, he has been targeted. “The council because of its exam status failed close to 50 to 60 of its students, who have already passed exams elsewhere.” He said the council was creating the shortage of nurses.
Khan said students should not be subjected to the whims and fancies of the council. The council, Khan said, also disallowed specialised Trinidadian nurses who worked different parts of the world to work in Trinidad upon their return. “They want the nurses to work from the bottom go up,” which he said was counterproductive and discriminatory. Khan said he has been accused of sourcing Indian nurses from abroad and putting them in HDC houses.
“They are going to go head-on with me. The war has been going on a while now.” Asked why the race card was pulled, Khan replied, “I don’t want to go that way. They see me as an Indian and that is wrong. The nurses are being lied to. They are trying to get them against the Government and me.” Khan denied not reaching out to the council and association.
“They only wanted things to go their way. I have spoken to them at length and they are refusing to budge. They sent a couple of legal letters.” If the nurses mount the pavement to protest, Khan said, it will be done on falsehood propagated by people who want to stay in a position indefinitely for their own interest.
Pierre—We don’t fail people
Vice-president of the council Karin Pierre yesterday said the council was for licensing. “And in all self-regulating bodies, you need to look at what the persons are coming in with.” Pierre said the council does not set the nursing exams nor are they responsible for training. “The exam is set by the Regional Examination for Nurse Registration. We don’t go out to fail people. It is hard when people blame an organisation for things. I hope he (Khan) will be able to engage in a discussion.”
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