Weeping and wailing over departing nurses won't solve the problem

Weeping and wailing over departing nurses won't solve the problem

Friday, January 24, 2020

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There is much weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth every time it emerges that Jamaican nurses are being lured away by superior pay and conditions of service in foreign countries. But that is to no avail.

The quality of Jamaican nurses has been recognised from as far back as Mary Seacole, affectionately nicknamed 'Mother Seacole' by wounded British soldiers during the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856, which brought fame to Florence Nightingale, the fabled 'Lady with the Lamp'.

But while Mary Seacole loved nursing so much that she famously paid her own way to the Crimean War, Jamaican nurses today are serving overseas mainly for the money and the search for a better life.

News reports this week said there were mounting concerns at the regional University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), St Andrew about the attrition rate of nurses, with close to 100 having reportedly tendered resignations in 2019 alone.

A hospital source also informed this newspaper that the UHWI's X-ray department had lost eight highly experienced radiographers to the United Kingdom in 2019, “with more set to go in early 2020, leaving the department “a shell of what it used to be, and patients waiting much longer as a result”.

That, of course, is only one hospital and it is not difficult to imagine the gravity of the situation when the attrition rate at the 40-odd other public hospitals and health clinics, not to mention the private health facilities, are factored in.

The bald fact is that there is nothing new in this, as UHWI Chief Executive Officer Kevin Allen wisely admits. “Nurses come and go all the time…It's a labour of love. We can't compete with the US, Canada, the UK, and the latest one that is opening up now is Germany.”

And there's the central point. Jamaica just cannot effectively match the kind of pay and benefits that the developed countries can and do offer. A registered nurse (RN) can easily make the equivalent of almost J$10 million a year in the United States.

The story of a nursing shortage in the US spreads across the entire country where licensed practical nurses (LPNs) are being tasked to do more medical procedures previously done only by doctors. The same is true for Britain, Canada and, we are now old, Germany.

The reports quoted president of the umbrella Nurses' Association of Jamaica Carmen Johnson as saying she was not surprised by the development. She added that globally there is a need for nine million nurses by 2030.

So since we in Jamaica will never realistically be able to retain our nurses on the basis of matching overseas salaries, we must resort to, not weeping and wailing, but training more nurses to meet our demand and with enough left over for the overseas recruiters.

This is obviously not a new idea. Indeed, there is a suggestion that Jamaica should seek to enter into agreements with the foreign poachers to train nurses specifically for them. This clearly would be a win-win situation.

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