A shortage of nurses is threatening to cripple operations of hospitals in Mumbai and New Delhi – the two cities worst affected by Covid-19 – as the fear of infections and lack of adequate personal protection drives nurses to their hometowns, leaving the burden of patient care to the few who stayed on. The crisis is most acute in Mumbai. Almost 1,000 nurses returned to their hometowns as the city became the nation’s Covid-19 epicentre with the highest number of cases. Private and public hospitals are left with a few hundred nurses who work double shifts and attend to a threefold increase in the number of patients.
Raheja Hospital, one of Mumbai’s designated Covid-19 hospitals, has 136 nurses, about half the strength of 276 it had in March. “Every day I am in a dilemma on how to manage the hospital with fewer staff,” Hiren Ambegaonkar, CEO of Raheja Hospitals, told ET. “There is a fear among nurses and specifically those working in Mumbai.”

As the lockdown eased, several nurses left Mumbai for Kerala. In most hospitals now, one nurse attends to 12 patients, a number that was three or four during a good day before the outbreak. Hinduja Hospital, which pays nurses about Rs 40,000 a month, has reached out to headhunters to fill vacant nurse positions, but has not found any applications.

Earlier, when healthcare staff would leave our organisation, we would quickly get replacements. Now, it is getting hard. Nurses from other cities do not want to work in Mumbai,” said Gautam Khanna, CEO of Hinduja Hospital. The unrest among medical staff including nurses has also been because public and private hospitals have not provided them with adequate protection, members of a nurse union told ET. They also said the state government is not hiring people who have applied for nursing jobs. According to several nurse unions in Maharashtra, the state’s Directorate of Medical Education and Research had verified the candidature of about 2,200 nurses who cleared the qualifying exam and were placed on the merit list. However, 401 positions of 528 vacancies in the state were filled, leaving 1,800 nurses available for recruitment. The Covid-19 outbreak has exposed the fault lines of the health care system in Maharashtra, Mumbai and the country at large, the nursing unions claimed.

In New Delhi, over 4,000 nurses at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have been protesting for better facilities at the workplace for the past week. The agitating nurses had threatened to go on mass casual leave on Wednesday and an indefinite strike from June 15. However, they called off their plans on Wednesday after the hospital administration agreed to meet their demands.