16 of them have tested positive; students say they weren’t told initially they were treating Covid-19 patients

| Alka Dhupkar

Nursing students of BMCrun colleges who have been thrust to the battle frontline have alleged that many of them were not given adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and others were kept in the dark that they were treating Covid-19 patients.

Sixteen nursing students have so far tested positive in the city.

In letters sent to the BMC, second- and third-year students said they were given just three hours of training in Borivali before being deputed to Covid-19 treatment facilities.

They are also being paid a stipend of only Rs 540 each a month despite putting their lives at stake, and said that when they protested against the conditions in which they were forced to work, they were threatened with expulsion from their institutes.

Students of HBT Medical College, which is attached to Cooper hospital, said that even after some of their seniors tested positive, they were neither informed nor quarantined. They alleged that PPE kits weren’t even provided till the first clutch of cases among them surfaced.

A student who has contracted the virus said initially, many were sent to treat patients with just a cotton mask. “Now, N95 masks and PPE have been distributed, but it’s too late,” she said, adding that she hasn’t told her family that her second test result also came back positive. “My father cries each time we speak. I had no choice but to lie about my current condition.”

Pointing at abysmal safety measures, another student said she was asked to figure out a place to quarantine herself after recovering from Covid-19 and was accommodated in a hostel room only after she protested.

A student from Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital and Medical College said they have to work in the hospital as part of their course study and the BMC takes care of their food and accommodation. “When the virus outbreak happened, we applied for leave, but were told that since we were being fed for free, we had to repay it by working during this time of emergency.”

A student of BYL Nair Hospital and TN Medical College said they were forced into signing consent forms before being deputed to work.

Through the letters, the students asked to be rescued from such methods of coercion.

They also complained that they weren’t being given nutritious food—rice and dal is all they get for every meal.

Dr Swati Rane, vice-president of Clinical Nursing and Research Society who has also received the letters, said she has requested the central government to issue a directive that nursing students should not be used as substitutes for nurses to fight the pandemic. “They are not registered nurses yet. A three-hour training doesn’t suffice. They are neither salaried staff nor do they have medical insurance coverage or other service benefits.” She suggested that the students can, instead, be used in healthcare facilities that do not cater specifically to Covid-19 patients, provided they are given adequate PPE.

Dr Ramesh Bharmal, dean of Nair hospital and director of major civic hospitals, confirmed that second- and third-year nursing students have been roped in, but asserted that they are being taken care of. “We have put them up at hotels and are serving them good quality food.”