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A mass casual leave by around 5,000 nurses at AIIMS today had a crippling effect on services offered to the patients as the emergency unit remained shut, while nearly 90 surgeries were postponed.
Several patients were forced to visit other hospitals in wake of the nurses' strike, even as the AIIMS authorities likened the protest to "blackmailing and arm-twisting" of administration at the cost of poor patients.
The nurses' union at the premier hospital have been demanding higher pay than that recommended by the 7th Central Pay Commission.
They have also threatened to go on an indefinite strike from March 27 if their demands for revision of pay scales and a hike in allowances are not met, even as AIIMS officials said they have forwarded their demands to the Health Ministry.
Majority of the patients approaching the AIIMS and trauma centre for emergency treatment today were forced to go to the nearby Safdarjung hospital and others hospitals.
The security guards deployed at the entrance of AIIMS turned away patients from the emergency department, which treats around 2,000 patients daily.
Those patients and their kin who managed to get inside during the early hours of the day had to spend hours waiting for doctors to see them.
A 70-year-old Raani Bai, who suffers from kidney disease and had come all the way from Patna to be treated at AIIMS, said she had to wait for almost three hours before being forced to go to Safdarjung.
"We waited thinking the services would resume but then we were forced to go take our mother to Safdarjung as her condition was worsening," said Bai's son.
Several other patients who came from across the country were at the receiving end as they were unaware of the strike call.
AIIMS administration said they have forwarded the demands of the nurses to the Health Ministry and requested it to convene a meeting with the Ministry of Finance to resolve the matter.
"The AIIMS administration has already revised the pay scales for all its employees including the nurses as per the recommendations of the 7th CPC.
"The administration has also agreed to the other demands of the Nurses' Union including the change of nomenclature from staff nurse to nursing officer as well as their demands for study leave.
"The demands for other allowances at the autonomous institutions like AIIMS is already under consideration of an empowered committee of the central government which is yet to give its recommendations," AIIMS acting Director Dr Balram Airan said.
Airan further said the current agitation by the nurses was completely "unjustified".
"This action of mass casual leave and threat of indefinite strike has put a lot of strain on the hospital working and has undermined the interest of the patients. "This also amounts to blackmailing and arm twisting the administration by the Nurses' Union at the cost of the poor patients," he said. Airan added that the administration had intimated about the protest to the police and CAT ambulances so that patients are not brought to AIIMS. "Our out patient department (OPD) clinics were functional and also those who are already admitted received treatment," Airan said. The nurses' union is protesting against what it termed as "retrograde" recommendations of the 7th CPC. "Our demand is that the entry pay grade for staff nurses should be enhanced to Rs 5,400 from the existing Rs 4,600 and the nursing allowance should be enhanced by Rs 7,800. "Besides, risk allowance and night duty allowances should be given to all nurses as it is given to all other government employees," Harish Kumar Kajla, President of AIIMS nurses' union, said. "We deal with the deadly infections daily but we are not provided enough risk allowance.
If the demands are not met, we will go on an indefinite strike from March 27," Kajla added. The association further claimed that the AIIMS management despite giving assurances has not addressed their issues for over a year.