THERE are mounting concerns at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in St Andrew about the attrition rate of nurses, with close to 100 having reportedly tendered resignations in the last year.
A source at the Type A hospital told the Jamaica Observer last week that at least 88 nurses have resigned, a development that has consistently put significant strain on staff at the institution.
When contacted, a senior staff member at the hospital who is not authorised to speak to the press said the X-ray department also lost eight highly experienced radiographers to the United Kingdom in 2019 “with more set to go in early 2020. X-ray [department] is a shell of what it used to be. Patients are waiting much longer as a result”.
On Friday the hospital’s Chief Executive Officer Kevin Allen told the Observer that, while he was not in a position to confirm the figure, it was not uncommon for scores of nurses to resign from the public hospital.
“Nurses come and go all the time,” Allen admitted. “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.”
He said the hospital has resorted to recruiting as many personnel as possible as soon as they graduate from nursing school.
“But, yes, we have nurses resigning every month. At any given time we have employed about 750 to 780 nurses,” he said, suggesting that if the figure is in fact 88, it is not a extreme occurrence.
“If you go there [hospital] at nights the ratio is awful, and awful nursing-patient ratio can compromise the quality of care that is offered — so it is bad. I’m not going to hide that. It is bad; but, what to do? People have their families to take care of and stuff, so they leave. It’s several factors, but you know the salary is the driver of all things. If you have 700 – 800 nurses, people [will] resign; every month you get resignations,” Allen told the Observer.
President of the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) Carmen Johnson was not surprised by the development, noting that in order to fill the shortfall in nursing levels globally — with 9,000,000 needed by 2030 — countries have been aggressively recruiting nurses from developing countries.
“We know the UK needed a million last year, US said they needed a little over a million last year, and what we do know is that in the other countries the markets have also opened up because their nurses are either going into different professions, or privately, or they are going to other countries,” Johnson told the Observer.
She said with Brexit in full swing the demand for nurses in the UK is expected to increase.
“So we know we have a worldwide demand for nurses, but the challenge is that we are not trying to retain ours while other countries are trying,” she said.
On Thursday, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is buckling under the weight of rising demand as it faces a severe staffing shortage.
It said with recruits of the European Union beginning to leave the NHS in greater numbers, the question of how to staff hospitals and care homes becomes more acute.
The report said more than 40,000 nursing roles are currently unfilled amid a sector-wide crisis.
Experts, the report said, warned that three things need to happen simultaneously to begin to bridge the gap — more recruits from abroad, training more UK nurses, and keeping hold of the current workforce.
The report indicated that relaxed visa restrictions in 2018 saw the number of nurses arriving from outside the European Economic Area in 2019 double to more than 8,000.
Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton stated that with the shortage of nurses globally, a number of the island’s nurses continue to head North to the US, and to some extent the UK.
“The market is very open, and recruitment happens on a continuous basis by agencies that are employed or contracted to recruit. Some of them come to Jamaica; they advertise in the media for recruitment sessions and they do all the necessary paperwork, the work permits, everything. In some instances [they] pay off the loans that the nurses have, and so on.
“So, there’s a very aggressive recruitment drive because of global shortage and competition, and Jamaican nurses are particularly attractive. So I would say most go to the US…,” Dr Tufton said.