There is a shortage of nurses in almost every country, but more so in Guyana, the Caribbean and other developing countries due to low salaries and their migration to greener pastures. The brain drain of local nurses seeking employment abroad has led to a drastic shortage of nurses which has become a burning issue in Guyana. The situation got even worse in 2017 when a number of United States and English recruiting agencies offered nurses positions in those countries. In the past, nursing agencies were only hiring European nurses, but now England had reopened its borders to Caribbean nurses. The shortage of nurses has become a major problem at the premier hospitals in Georgetown, New Amsterdam, Skeldon and Linden so much so that patients’ lives are at serious risk.
For years, the public health sector was in dire need of suitably qualified nurses, primarily because it has been losing them to other countries and even within the country to the private hospitals.
The Minister of Public Health has acknowledged that staffing in general is a big problem in the health sector and that there is a shortage of some 1,000 nurses in the country. She disclosed that her Ministry and the government are paying close attention to the migration of nurses that has resulted in a shortage of about 300 nurses at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.
Senior health officials have made it clear that the nurses could not be blamed because there was a lack of opportunities locally for them to advance themselves. They have highlighted some of the factors that have been linked to the nurses’ migration. Included among them paltry emoluments when compared with foreign nurses. Another is that nursing staff are overworked, because there are a lot of patients to a single nurse. A third is, nurses are not being treated properly in terms of working conditions which are very poor at the major hospitals, especially those in the most densely populated area hospitals in Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
Last but not least, the health system continues to frustrate the good nurses who want to make a difference but cannot, because of the fear that they will be victimized.
The nursing shortage is further affected by the fact that many nurses who have graduated from the University of Guyana have been sidelined for promotion.
This shortage of nursing staff has led to lengthy waiting periods for patients at almost all the hospitals and outdoor health clinics across the country. Even though waiting at hospitals has become a vexing problem for the public, it is not unique to Guyana. Waiting at hospitals has become an issue that is affecting all other countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain and those in the Caribbean, among others.
Although efforts are underway to address the migration and shortage of nurses in the public health system, there are, however, some who are convinced that nothing will change.
While there is no quick solution to the migration and shortage of nurses in the country, the Ministry of Public Security and the government are currently reviewing the salary scale of nurses which is a major contributor to the shortage of this category of health workers. The Ministry has intensified its efforts to train 100 nurses instead of training only 20 and 30 at a time, and has invited retired and re-migrant nurses to join the health sector. While the Ministry is hoping that the new graduate nurses would fill the gap, unfortunately they would need to be guided by the senior nurses who would not be around to shepherd them. We must do everything in our power keep our nurses home.
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