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Severe shortage of specialist nurses, says NAJ

BY INGRID BROWN Senior staff reporter browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, June 09, 2011    

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THE Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) is reporting a severe shortage of specialist nurses and clerical staff to provide adequate services in Jamaica's health sector, even as the Government embarks on a drive to scale down sections of the public sector workforce.

President of the NAJ Anthonette Patterson painted a frightening picture of Jamaica having only one retired specialist nurse in some medical disciplines.

Patterson explained further that for every discipline in medicine there should be a specialist nurse, but this is far from the case since there is a severe shortage of these personnel in the country.

Patsy Edwards-Henry, recording secretary of the NAJ, told reporters and editors during a meeting at the Observer head office in Kingston Tuesday that the only specialist nurse in orthopaedics is retired.

She explained further that there are only two trained nurses in oncology in Jamaica and one is already retired.

"In nephrology we just started a school, in ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) we had one and she is retired, and in ophthalmology there is only one," said Edwards-Henry.

Patterson said that by failing to ensure that there are enough expert personnel to provide these specialist services, the Government was displaying scant regard for Jamaicans.

"You will have a registered general trained nurse providing all the services... right now on an orthopaedic ward there is no specialist trained orthopaedic nurse," she said.

"The one specialist orthopaedic nurse that we had used to work in Mandeville Regional Hospital and she retired," she explained.

She added further that the sole oncology nurse is now in training in Trinidad.

"The one ophthalmology nurse we have works at the KPH and she works between the clinic, in the office and she sometimes provides teaching at an institution, so we are grossly short," Patterson said.

At Mona Rehab, she said there are no specialist nurses in rehabilitative care.

"So the Government cannot, at any time, even harbour the thought of reducing the nursing staff," she argued.

The NAJ president also said there is a significant shortage of clerical support staff, resulting in doctors and nurses having to take on a lot of this responsibility.

"At Victoria Jubilee and KPH (Kingston Public Hospital) right now we don't have clerical staff, so when we finish our nursing work we have to go to clerical or we have to ask the doctor to write up this card for me," explained Patterson.

She said the clerical staff at Victoria Jubilee and KPH -- two of the largest hospitals in the island -- have been scaled down drastically overtime.

"So you don't have clerks on the wards to assist the patients when they are going home and to give them their appointments and so that has to be done by nurses and doctors," she explained further.

According to Patterson, the clerical department is closed on weekends, forcing patients to wait until the next weekday to have important documents stamped.

"If you get a sick leave on a Saturday you have to wait to come back on a Monday to get it stamped," she said.

As such, the NAJ president further reiterated that the nursing workforce and its support cannot be reduced at all.

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