28 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Retention Schemes for Nurses Essential


Personnel training so costly that many institutions and nations shirk though they need the products thereof. Whole industries and public sectors have various training institutions as their fulcrum and once such institutions stop functioning properly the cycle is interrupted resulting in the supply chain drying up with negative consequences on service delivery.

Zimbabwe has suffered the loss of skilled labour over the past decade or so, with many skilled nationals fleeing economic challenges in the country and seeking sanctuary in neighbouring countries and far away places such as the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and others.

In the face of diminishing resources, our training institutions continued their training programmes and produced thousands of graduates in various disciplines.

Some of the most-sought-after graduates regionally and internationally, were our nurses.

Zimbabwean trained nurses are now all over the world, rendering good service to foreigners while resource constraints continue to frustrate locally-based nurses.

Poor funding led to a freeze on recruitment of nurses in spite of a shortage at most public hospitals, culminating in a mismatch whereby training institutions were churning out more personnel than the establishment could absorb due to poor funding of the health sector.

Government has since reduced the number of student nurses enrolled per training intake to not more than 30 from about 100.

We learn that the reduction in numbers was in response to a lack of posts in the public sector, in spite of the recent lifting of a freeze on 1 000 nursing positions.

Also, officials have also pointed out that there was a shortage of tutors, a development that could compromise on the quality of our nurses.

We believe the Government should produce enough for our national requirements and also have some that we could supply the region and beyond without compromising on quality by insisting on large numbers against declining numbers of tutors.

It takes three years to produce one nurse, a costly exercise that some countries, including developed ones, have failed to undertake and hence relied on nurses trained by developing countries like Zimbabwe.

The ordinary taxpayer in Zimbabwe has been funding the training of nurses for countries such as the United Kingdom, which have many nurses from this country.

To arrest the rampant brain drain, there is a need for the country to come up with staff retention strategies that include fair remuneration while more emphasis should also be put on specialised nursing so that the country has enough midwives, intensive care nurses, nurses specialising in psychiatry and other areas.

Many of these areas have a few qualified personnel with the rest being general nurses, and this does not augur well for the country's health sector as we pursue our Millennium Development Goals.

In order to reduce maternal mortality, it is not enough to just rush pregnant mothers to hospital but they should get there and be attended to by specialists in that area.

We believe after reducing the intakes for fresh students, the Government should consider identifying senior nurses and offering incentives for them to specialise and go for training in various areas so that we stop focusing on numbers only but improve on the quality of health care.

From about 1 000 nurses being churned out yearly, we expect the number to come down to 300 in three years and it is those funds that would have been spent on the 700 students that should be channelled towards training of specialist nurses and providing incentives to retain the skills we already have.

There has been talk of the country exporting nurses so that Treasury benefits through a formalised way in which the recipient country pays the country for the skills.

We believe that should be speeded up so that the more than 1 000 jobless nurses can be in gainful employment and put their skills where they are needed rather than the current situation where many of them have turned to buying and selling and other areas quite distant from their training.

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