By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
MINISTER of Health Dr Duane Sands has pledged improved conditions for nurses will be a top priority item for the Ministry of Health’s upcoming budget, as the country fights to keep its nurses at home.
His promise came during the opening ceremony of Nurses Month in Grand Bahama yesterday at the Police Training College. This year’s theme is “Nurses – A Voice To Lead Health For All.” The minister said nurses are an important part of the healthcare team, and that many developed countries are recruiting Bahamian nurses to work abroad.
“Yes, you are being recruited to come to places like Canada, the US, Great Britain and elsewhere, but certainly, your country is also in a fight to try to keep you here,” he told nurses in Grand Bahama.
Dr Sands stated the Ministry of the Health has been asked to prioritise spending wishes on the basis of the hospital or Public Hospitals Authority. He said there are nearly 200 priorities they must consider.
“So, we had to go from one down to 170 in terms of priorities. Budgets are all about priorities and what you believe is important and what strategic goals you wish to accomplish. And when I thought about what is important, I decided that among the top two things in terms of priority would be improved conditions for nurses,” he said.
“That tells you where we stand right now with the Ministry of Health. There is no question that when we look at the healthcare force, comments suggested that nurses are an important part of the healthcare team,” said Dr Sands.
He stressed nurses are the most critical to healthcare because they are often the first healthcare providers who interact with patients and their families.
Dr Sands said: “We need to understand whether we are dealing with the Queen of England or Queenie from Bain Town, that every single human being deserves respect, love and support. There is nobody better trained to do that than nurses.
“You are truly an important part of the team, and even though you may not feel as if you are appreciated at this time, I can assure you, you are.”
Public health nurses have been at odds with the government in recent months. They have been agitating for unpaid overtime pay and have also fought a new shift system the Public Hospitals Authority wants to implement in the public healthcare system.
Guest speaker Rebecca Johnson, senior nursing officer at Princess Margaret Hospital and president of Nursing Association of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Nassau branch, said that there is a shortage of nurses in the country and the association is working with the ministry to address it.
“We have a lot of persons who are eligible for retirement according to the amount of years that was served already, and so, you find nurses leaving because of retirement. In recent times, we find because of the global shortage we have the US, Canada, and the UK are coming and they are very aggressive in trying to recruit nurses.
“They coming to the Bahamas and are now assisting persons with State Board [exams], and helping families find jobs, so it if very hard for us to compete now with that. So, we have to find strategies to encourage our nurses to stay home and take care of our people because we need nurses [too],” she said.
Ms Johnson noted that in March officials held a major recruitment and retention symposium in Nassau.
She stated an international nursing expert, Leanne Thyman, was present and helped them to look at developing some strategies to make recommendation to Dr Sands and other officials.
The senior nurse also stated that they plan to implement a mentoring programme in the primary schools in the next school year to expose young people to the nursing profession, as well as professions in allied health.
“We are short on nurses, but the other allied health professions are even worse than us. And so, we are looking at programmes we can do in the schools,” she said.
Ms Johnson said that they met with Dr Sands on Thursday and presented the initial idea to him and he has agreed to support it.
“We have to finish the draft and submit it to him, and so hopefully in September we will be able to bring the mentoring programme into the schools to expose young persons from a tender age to the nursing profession. If we constantly have a pool of persons coming into the profession you wouldn’t really feel it so much when you have persons leaving. If we are working on both ends, I think we can stem the tide,” she said.