AIIMS Nurse Suicide: Press Statement on Protest Meeting and Memorandum

March 21, 2014

PRESS STATEMENT
Date: 18/03/2014

AIIMS Nurse’s Suicide Case: Condolence-cum-Protest Meeting of Nurses & Women’s Organizations in Solidarity

Nurses and women’s organizations press for proper police enquiry and investigation into AIIMS grievance redressal system

Today, on 18 March, large numbers of nurses, nursing unions and women’s organizations gathered at the Front Gate of AIIMS (New Delhi) to express their condolences with as well as their concerns on the recent case of suicide committed by the hospital’s staff nurse. The gathering also saw participation of concerned staff members of AIIMS who had called a protest earlier in the day within the AIIMS campus. Among the participating organizations were: Indian Professional Nurses Association (IPNA), Delhi Professional Nurses Association (DPNA), Federation of Indian Nurses Association (FINA), All India ESIC Nurses Federation (AIENF), AIDWA, Centre for Struggling Women (CSW), etc. Similar meetings in solidarity were organized in other states like Karnataka, Rajasthan, etc.

The unfortunate incident involving the AIIMS nurse was seen by the gathering as one amongst a spate of similar incidents involving healthcare sector workers who are struggling to manage extremely stressful workloads, work-related harassment (including sexual harassment) and lack of proper grievance redressal mechanisms at hospitals where they work. Even in the recent AIIMS case, the prima facie evidence points towards the fact that the nurse was very upset with her recent transfer to a night shift in private ward. Her requests against the transfer allegedly went unheeded.

Moreover, certain incidents like that reported from Giridih town as well as from Datia district in Madhya Pradesh, reflect how many nurses and nurse trainees are becoming victims of sexual harassment and abuse. The common thread in most of these cases is that complaints by the nurses/trainees were, more often than not, left unaddressed, leading to drastic measures like suicide by the harassed nurse/trainee.

As pointed out by various speakers who addressed the gathering, the condition of healthcare workers in our country is very dismal since the nurse to patient ratio in hospitals and primary health centres is very skewed. Since there are fewer nurses to patients, the majority of nurses are working under very stressful workloads and that too at very low salaries. In private hospitals and now increasingly even in government hospitals, nursing staff are employed on contract for salaries that range between Rs 5000-10000. This is despite their highly skilled work and important social service. In fact, many nurses are forced to work long hours for such low salaries because of their compulsion to immediately pay off student loans taken from banks for their nursing course from private institutes, which costs anywhere between 5 to 7 lakh rupees.

Women nurses, in particular, are also faced with the challenge of having to function in unsafe work atmospheres. The string of recent incidents involving sexual harassment of and suicide by healthcare workers across India is indicative of just how deep the problem is. Indeed, many hospitals do not have functional anti-sexual harassment committees and it is mostly after an incident of harassment that hospital management’s constitute such committees to inquire sexual harassment complaints. It is supposedly no different in AIIMS where reports from within the institution point to the fact that despite being a premiere educational institution as well as a renowned government hospital, a ‘women’s safety committee’ was activated only very recently, i.e. after the Delhi gang-rape case of 2012. The efficacy of this committee is unclear as many female nurses continue to lack confidence in reporting their complaints of sexual harassment.

Neither does the AIIMS management seem to have an effective grievance redressal system in place, which is why a large number of complaints are still pending. This is, unfortunately, a trend across various hospitals and medical institutions since management’s are prone to be intolerant of any complaints and dialogue by the staff. Due to dysfunctional grievance committees and mechanisms within hospitals, the concerns and complaints of nursing staff regarding work schedules, allotment of ward duty, shift allotment, allotment of housing and other benefits, etc. remain mostly unresolved. This in turn contributes to a hostile work atmosphere, which eventually fuels immense amount of frustration that sometimes even pushes the staff to take drastic measures like committing suicide.

Seeing this recent AIIMS case as indicative of the failure of the AIIMS management to properly redress work-related grievances of their staff, women’s groups and nurses across the city extended their solidarity with the AIIMS Nurses Union. A memorandum was submitted at the office of the Director of AIIMS [attached with press statement], which highlighted how necessary it was for AIIMS to act as a model employer, being one of the premiere medical institutions and hospitals of this country. At the meeting, it was resolved that continuous pressure would be applied on the AIIMS management and the police authorities to properly investigate all possible angles to this suicide case. In this regard, support was also extended to the memorandum submitted earlier today by the AIIMS Nurses Union, which demanded an internal enquiry into the matter as well.

Thanking you
Santosh Maya John
Federation of Indian Nurses Association (FINA)
Centre For Struggling Women (CSW)
______________________________________________
MEMORANDUM

To
The Director
All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS)
New Delhi
Date: 18.03.2014

Memorandum

Respected Sir,
We, the undersigned, wish to bring to your attention our deep concerns regarding the recent suicide case of an AIIMS staff nurse. The unfortunate incident has expectedly caused distress not only amongst your esteemed institution and the deceased family, but has also elicited major concerns within the larger community of healthcare workers and women’s organizations across the country. For us, the incident is indicative of the many stressful problems faced by healthcare workers on the field, which often culminate in unfortunate and drastic measures by individual healthcare workers.

Our concerns stem from the prima facie evidence and media reports which reflect that the deceased, who was a long-serving employee of your institution, was extremely unhappy and depressed about her recent transfer to a night shift in a private ward. That this recent transfer preceded her suicide, quite naturally raises many questions about the efficacy of grievance redressal mechanisms in place at AIIMS, and whether the institution is doing its best to cater to the multiple concerns of its nursing staff – a large number of whom are women. Reports from within AIIMS have so far indicated that despite being a premiere medical institution and renowned hospital of this country, the institution is failing to act as a model employer in the health sector – an employer whose methods of grievance redressal, systems of enquiring into and preventing sexual harassment of women employees, etc. can be emulated across other hospitals and medical institutions.

It is troubling, for example, that it is only very recently that a ‘women’s safety committee’ was activated by the institution. Whether this committee strictly functions along the prescribed lines for an anti-sexual harassment committee, and whether the aforementioned committee has managed to instill confidence in women staff, is questionable. It is also very worrying that there are several pending cases regarding other work-related grievances (like allotment of shifts, of wards, and of housing and other benefits, as well as denial of leave and delay in promotions, etc.). The sheer number of such complaints and the fact that they remain unresolved reflects that as an institution AIIMS is failing to create a conducive work atmosphere. Lack of representation from various strata of AIIMS staff within the existing grievance redressal mechanism plays an important role in limiting the efficacy of the grievance redressal mechanism. The failings of the grievance redressal mechanism in turn contribute to the creation of a hostile work atmosphere that
eventually plays havoc with individual employees’ emotional state of mind.

It is with these concerns that we write to you and request the following:
• That the AIIMS administration takes full cognizance of the seriousness of such unfortunate incidents and constitutes an internal inquiry;
• That the AIIMS administration fully cooperates and assists the Delhi Police in a thorough investigation into the suicide;
• That the AIIMS administration fulfills its important role as a model employer, and examines its grievance redressal mechanism so as to allow for better representation of its staff and for speedy resolution of work-related complaints;
• That the administration ensures that the existing ‘women’s safety committee’ functions according to the prescribed rules for an anti-sexual harassment committee, that it is properly constituted under the relevant Act, and is thus constituted of adequate representatives from women employees from all sections of the staff;
• That the administration adheres to the prescribed standard of nurse to patient ratio in its various wards.