NEW DELHI: On Wednesday, the nursing officers of Safdarjung Hospital staged a peaceful protest against the arbitrary dismissal of hundreds of contractual workers among them. They allege that despite a shortage of nursing staff, the hospital authorities have refused to renew their recruitment contract.

The nursing officers of several Delhi hospitals have been protesting since Tuesday against their sudden dismissal. These include the Safdarjung, Lady Hardinge, Ram Manohar Lohia and Kalawati hospitals.

Several protestors who were dismissed told The Citizen that they received no notice. Once every three or six months, they are granted leave during which their contract is renewed. This is the fifth day that they are on leave.

At present there are around 290 nursing officers at Safdarjung Hospital who are bearing the brunt.

Menka, a nursing officer at Safdarjung since 2016, highlighted the difficulties that nurses and patients face due to under-staffing and cutbacks. She said that there is only one nurse attending patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit, a skewed ratio which falls well short of World Health Organisation guidelines. “Multiple departments including medicine, super-speciality, and post-operative care are similarly understaffed.”

Mohsin, whose relative is being treated at the hospital for suspected seizures, complained that the ward in which his relative has been admitted houses around 20 other patients, with no nurse available for immediate care.

Jeet, another protesting nursing officer, explained the politics behind the arbitrary dismissal. According to him “there is a conflict of interest between the medical superintendent and the additional/ deputy nursing superintendents. While the former sanctions contractualised nursing officers, the latter want them to be permanent. Only the presence of permanent nursing officers will allow the additional or deputy nursing officers to receive promotions.”

The protestors at Safdarjung allege that the management has been misleading them. It keeps promising first that the matter will be looked into and resolved, they say, but so far it has yet to do anything in this regard.

Additonally, they are kept in limbo by the medical superintendent and the Ministry of Health and Familly Welfare, as each asks them to refer their grievances to the other.

For many nursing officers who have worked for decades on contract, the situation is grimmer still. A nursing officer named Swati who has worked at Safdarjung for around ten years told The Citizen that she has now crossed the age limit for applying to any other government job. “If the contract is not renewed, I will effectively be out of work.”

Rajesh, another protestor complained that the hospital has a “use-and-throw” attitude towards its nursing officers. “The government promises good healthcare and facilities to the people. Safdarjung is one the best hospitals in Asia. How can it provide good healthcare and facilities if it is understaffed?”

He added, “It’s one of the duties of nursing officers to ensure treatment and care for patients till their dying breath.” The seemingly deliberate understaffing of Safdarjung Hospital has made him question its commitment towards its patients, and to medical ethics.