The Vanuatu Nurses' Association says many nurses are frightened to voice their opinions after the suspension of about 100 medical workers over the signing of a petition.
Its vice president says the acting Director General of Health, Dr Santus Wari, on Tuesday sent letters notifying staff they were suspended for six-months on half pay.
Anne Pakoa says Dr Wari's move follows a petition by staff that asked the prime minister, Moana Carcasses, to remove Dr Wari and the health minister, Serge Vohor.
She told Amelia Langford that the situation has got ugly.
SERGE VOHOR: Well, the situation here, I can say it's pretty critical. What happens is the nurses are waiting in so much fear. The main fear is that they might get suspended for saying something or doing something, for attending a meeting, for voicing their concerns at the methods. So they're pretty much scared at this time. Yeah, that's pretty much what the situation is like at the moment with nurses morale.
AMELIA LANGFORD: Why has the Director General done this?
SV: My observation and to the observation of some of the activists that were trying to raise issues on this matter is that he's taking things pretty hard at the moment. I think it really depends on his style of leadership. What happens is that he wants the nurses to do what he wants. And if they don't do what he says then they would end up getting suspended or he'll send them critical notes, critical letters. One of the decisions that he's made to suspend the 96 staff was due to a petition that these nurses have signed. And one of the statements in the petition or one of the requests in the petition was that the nurses are asking for the removal of the Director General and the removal of the Minister for Health. And I think one of the things that he's pretty upset about was that the nurses did not speak to him about the petition, but they directly handed the petition to the office of the prime minister. So that's why he got pretty upset and he got those that signed the petition suspended. And the worst thing was that all the ante natal nurses got suspended. And yesterday the ante natal clinic was closed for the whole day because there was no-one to see the women. So it was a pretty grieving day yesterday for nurses that got their suspension letters.
AL: So at the moment it must be a very stressful time for these nurses who have been suspended.
SV: Well, it's very stressful. And one of the things that's happening is that the nurses they're standing in the middle and they're quite confused, especially some of our senior nurses. They have never been caught in political traps like this so a lot of them were crying.
Anne Pakoa says nurses that signed the petition are worried by a lack of consultation over a revamp of the health system. The office of the Prime Minister says the suspensions are being revoked.