By Shermain Bique-Charles
Slow payment of their $1,000 Covid incentive is among a string of concerns being expressed by the country’s nurses who remain at the forefront of the fight against the virus.
Antigua and Barbuda Nursing Association (ABNA) President Soria Dupie-Winston is accusing Health Minister Molwlyn Joseph of painting a false picture about the state of affairs facing local medical professionals.
Joseph told Observer recently that the government was working towards addressing issues such as a pay increase and making housing available. He conceded that nurses deserved additional incentives and support, on top of the general package given to public servants.
But Dupie-Winston told Observer that the minister had failed to address a “laundry list” of issues which have become overbearing.
“The nurses were promised a $1,000 incentive for Covid-19 but never got it and these nurses are not satisfied,” she claimed.
Joseph said some nurses had received the payment but acknowledged disbursement had been slow.
Dupie-Winston continued that some nurses had worries about the absence of formal work contracts.
“It is only because of the Covid-19 pandemic we continue to work, because we realise that we must do our work to keep the country safe,” she admitted.
The issue of housing for nurses has also been discussed continuously and the ABNA president accused the government of falling to effectively address the matter.
“We, ABNA, asked the Minister of Health to make housing and land available for nurses. We are willing to pay but we’ve asked for arrangements to be made and it hasn’t happened,” she said.
The ABNA also asked during a dialogue with the minister earlier this year for scholarships to be provided for nurses wishing to specialise, which she said he had agreed to.
In fact, he apparently promised to speak with education officials on the matter but Dupie-Winston said several months later, “not a word has been spoken about it”.
“He dialogued with us, he made several promises and we haven’t heard or seen anything as yet. ABNA is the recognised lawful body to represent nurses and their wellbeing, so we have to represent their plight,” he added.
Joseph also recently addressed the issue of brain drain within the sector, saying that nurses were leaving the nation in droves.
In fact, in May this year, Joseph told reporters that the government may have to put strategies and incentives in place to ensure that nurses continue to practice on home soil.
But Dupie-Winston said these promises have not resulted in action.
“If the nurses from Antigua got better incentives here, they would stay. Nurses are not remunerated adequately in Antigua when they go abroad to study. Some only get an additional $100 on their salary,” she claimed.
These frontline workers, according to their representative, cannot continue to be placed at the bottom of the line, especially when they are the first to be called on when there’s a crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is high time that nurses get the well-deserved recognition and support that they need. We cannot continue to be treated like we make no significant contribution to this country. Give us what we want,” Dupie-Winston insisted.