Nurses have 5 fundamental responsibilities:
-to promote health
-to prevent illness
-to restore health
-to alleviate suffering
-to assist towards a peaceful death
Inherent in nursing is our duty to perform these responsibilities especially in the context of a pandemic. It is hard for many of us to turn our backs on our patients simply because we have pledged our whole lives in the service of the people.
However, times like this also beg the following questions:
Do nurses, and other health care workers, have a duty to care for patients when doing so exposes the nurses themselves to significant risks of harm and even death? More importantly, in the face of serious infectious disease, is there a duty to treat?
Our health system does not have the capacity to handle a pandemic. And this was made apparent in the previous weeks. Let me cite some experiences from the frontline (these ones I got from personal communications with nurses on the ground from various locations).
-Because of their duty to treat, some nurses were forced to perform CPR without adequate personal protective equipment or PPE on a patient with unknown COVID status.
-Some nurses left their sick family members because they were asked to report to duty.
-A nurse did not leave the patient room because her patient was unstable, unresponsive and drowning in his own urine and feces. Without any help, the nurse stayed with the patient and changed his diaper 3 times.
-Some nurses chose to stay inside patient rooms so they can properly monitor their patients because the hospital lacks proper surveillance equipment and has inadequate nursing staff. This despite hospital protocol saying that nurses should only stay in patient rooms for a maximum of two hours in an eight-hour shift.
These are some of many instances where nurses felt responsible to perform their duties despite knowing risks of harm and death. Truth be told, nurses will continue to perform their duties despite the risk of dying or acquiring the disease because many of us feel that it is our professional and moral duty to do so.