Nuno Manjua, regional union leader

Algarve nurses sound alarm over lack of personal protective equipment

The national nurses’ union (SEP) is demanding action over the lack of conditions that nurses in the Algarve have to deal with on a daily basis, particularly in the midst of a global pandemic.

The shortage of protective gear, such as masks, uniforms and disinfectant, is just one of the issues highlighted in a letter sent by the union to the Algarve’s health authority (ARS Algarve) and the Algarve’s university hospital board (CHUA), which manages the region’s state hospitals.

“We demand that the health authorities respond as quickly as possible and begin implementing the necessary measures to provide more safety conditions to health professionals and patients,” regional union leader Nuno Manjua told Barlavento newspaper.

Said Manjua, he hopes that authorities will finally respond to the requests the union has been making “for years”.

“If they already had, today we would be much better prepared to face this pandemic. We hope the measures we are demanding will be lasting and won’t just be applied circumstantially,” he added.

The first issue highlighted is a lack of personal protective equipment for nurses, which Manjua stresses is either running out or has run out, “putting their own safety and those around them at risk”.

“In the worst-case scenario, it is their lives that are on the line.

“We have confirmed that there is not an orderly distribution of this equipment. There are services where the guidelines change every day. Using a mask is mandatory when near patients, according to the health board (DGS), but there are services where nurses are being denied a mask,” said the union boss.

There are also cases of nurses using the same mask a whole shift or for several days, he added, also revealing that others had to buy their own masks when they were still available.

According to Manjua, another issue is that nurses are being threatened with disciplinary action if they refuse to sign up for work using fingerprint registration, although institutions are not supplying disinfectant near the terminals.

Said the regional union chief, “these and any other ‘threats’ are unacceptable”.

“There are also reports of health professionals buying bleach because there wasn’t any at their unit,” he revealed.

The list of issues goes on, with Manjua also complaining about a lack of clean uniforms for nurses.

“If it was already a problem before, now the situation has worsened and there are nurses who are taking their uniforms home to have them washed, or otherwise they would have to use the same one for days on end,” he said, adding that the union is demanding the purchase of disposable uniforms.

Manjua also reports that several nurses have not received proper training about what procedures are recommended when dealing with coronavirus patients, which creates “anxiety and leads to a higher risk of exposure”.

“There are cases of nurses who were in unprotected contact with confirmed coronavirus patients but who were not put into any kind of quarantine nor were they submitted to tests. All they were told was to continue working,” the union leader told the paper.

And while the number of Covid-19 cases in the Algarve is still considered relatively low, the union calls for more negative pressure isolation rooms. Currently there are only four, he said – all at Faro Hospital.

SEP also says that patients who are suspected of infection have to wait for hours in the isolation areas, with nothing to eat. “Nurses are having to buy them food,” he said.

Manjua also warns that the possibility of more patients being isolated at home will increase the need to provide home care.

“The shortage of nurses is now even more apparent. We demand the immediate launch of tenders (to hire more nurses),” said the union leader, adding that the contracts should be for an “indefinite period and not for four months with a possibility of renewal”.

Original article written by Bruno Filipe Pires for Barlavento newspaper.