Among the most dedicated, but also under-appreciated professionals are Indian hospital nurses. Perhaps for reasons connected with the country’s obnoxious caste system, these silent professionals are not accorded the social respect that they are given in enlightened countries globally. They are also pathetically under-paid. Some five years ago, when I was felled by one of the thousand unnatural shocks that flesh is heir to, I was shocked to learn that the English-fluent, qualified (four years) dedicated nurse who sat up all night on a plastic chair while your correspondent was in ICU of Bangalore’s top-rated Manipal Hospital, received the rock-bottom remuneration of Rs.5,000 per month. Which seemed patently iniquitous since the room rate where one was on death-bed was Rs.10,000 per night plus everything else. Even a juniormost office attendant in our struggling journal earns five multiples thereof.
In the circumstances it’s unsurprising that India has a mere 17 nurses per 10,000 people according to World Health Organisation data, against the global average of 38/10,000. According to data of the Indian Nursing Council, the number of registered nurses and midwives in 2021 countrywide aggregated a mere 2.47 million to serve a population of 1.4 billion. Little wonder that every nurse one meets is planning to migrate abroad where they are well-paid and enjoy high esteem and social respect.
Indeed, way back when your editor was a student in London, to have a nurse as a girlfriend was a much envied status symbol. And it’s also worthy of note that the Brits — one of the most ingrate species on Planet Earth — acknowledge that Indian nurses, who keep their National Health Service alive, are the most compassionate and competent. Yet managers of India’s best hospitals and hospital chains seem unaware of value of these pearls. Now they are experiencing a severe shortage of trained nurses. Serves us right.