Nurses at loggerheads with health officials over slashing of airport duties

Nurse Soria Dupie-Winston Member, The Most Illustrious Order of Merit (MM)
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Some of the nurses that had been stationed at VC Bird International Airport have registered their frustration with authorities after they were told their services at the facility will no longer be required after months of unpaid service.

The nurses – who have been assisting with Covid mitigation efforts at the airport on top of their regular hours at local clinics for more than a year – told Observer that they were informed by their Principal Nursing Officer that the Ministry of Health had decided to keep only three of the eight nurses currently positioned there.

The nurses said although they respect that it is the government’s prerogative to adjust port health measures, the matter was not handled appropriately and they are still owed several months’ pay.

Head of the Nursing Association, Soria Dupie-Winston, speaking on behalf of the aggrieved nurses, said she believes that this is another example of how the nation’s nurses are mistreated.

“It’s very unfair and this is the problem that we face all the time with government. Everybody thinks that they can use and abuse the nurses as they like and when they are finished discard them, not realising that nurses play a pivotal role especially in this fight against Covid – not only for Covid but in general health care,” she said.

“A health care system cannot function without the services of nurses – and over and over again we keep seeing the disrespect coming from technical persons who don’t consult with nurses as it relates to certain matters,” she posited.

The nurses are reportedly being cut from airport duties because more assistance is required at clinics but some nurses believe that is an excuse to avoid paying them the outstanding monies.

Dupie-Winston explained that their issue is not with the cutting of hours but how it was executed.

 “You should have had a sit-down with the nurses, let them know what is happening and also let them know when they will be getting the monies that are owed to them,” she stated.

The head of the nursing association also shared that while she is not completely sure whether or not nurses returned to their duties at the airport, “from what I heard from at least three of them, they said they are not going back because of the way they are treated, because of the way things are being done…two were scheduled to work today and they said they are not going.”

One of the nurses also questioned the timing of the decision, which comes as the country is set to welcome more tourists amid fears that the more transmissible and deadlier Covid-19 delta variant could be introduced into Antigua and Barbuda.

Speaking during yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing, Minister of Information Melford Nicholas said, “Given the increased volume of traffic and the queues that we have to manage at the VC Bird International Airport, it was felt prudent that we should bring more civilian personnel into that mix and the Ministry of Health working with the Ministry of Tourism has those challenges.”

The Ministry of Health released a statement yesterday afternoon refuting claims “that nurses were severed from the surveillance unit at the VC Bird International Airport and the reason for the severance is because the ministry does not want to pay them.”

However, there has been no word on when they will be paid.

“The senior management of the ministry continue to assign and redeploy staff, when necessary, in response to the pandemic in order to provide the public with the highest level of professionalism and customer service,” the release continued.

It added that a press conference would be held early next week to address the matter.

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