The government’s exploration of a new initiative to bond nurses to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) does not contradict the current concept in place of “training nurses for export”.
This is the view expressed by Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, who last Wednesday said his administration will at some point bond nurses for a few years after they have completed their studies locally, so as to ensure that the nursing stock is not depleted.
And, last Sunday on WEFM, he also spoke to the intended action by government.
“The circumstances have altered and you have to make sure that if you’re giving a free education or almost a free nursing education; paying 1000 a month to the nursing students, surely you should get a few years back. It’s not a contradiction, it’s a placation of the same principle in a different situation,” the prime minister said on the WEFM “Issues at Hand” radio programme.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for nurses in countries across the globe.
And in a recent article published on the Reuters website, the International Council of Nurses has found that the fast-spreading Omicron variant has led wealthy countries to intensify recruitment of nurses from poorer parts of the world, hence “worsening dire shortages in overstretched workforces”.
Gonsalves said since 2002, this country has been training more than enough nurses for the national healthcare system and to work abroad.
It was at this point that his administration had begun to subsidise nursing education and provide nursing students with $1000 per month.
“That continued, and I didn’t see the sense in bonding the nurses because we were producing more than enough in terms of the supply and demand. In fact, there were some nurses who were qualified, couldn’t get jobs because they weren’t yet going overseas because in the British market, what happened is that the British were saying we don’t want persons with the Associate Degree and regional exam passing, we want persons with degrees,” the prime minister explained.
The Bachelor’s degree in Nursing Education programme was subsequent introduced at the St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College (SVGCCC), in partnership with The University of the West Indies.
But recruitment requirements changed as the demand for nurses overseas became greater.
“When I read up about it in the United Kingdom, there were complaints that the women who were now — the nurses who were trained with the degrees were, in accordance with the report ‘too posh to wash’,” Gonsalves said.
The term ‘too posh to wash’ suggests that well-educated nurses were not as willing to deliver the quality personal care necessary in the profession.
“As COVID came on — in fact just before COVID came on here, we began to see a migration of nurses because in the British market, they had changed now. They will take those with the local nursing qualification, the Associate Degrees, once they pass the regional exams and be accredited here as nurses,” the prime minister pointed out.
He said there was a growing shortage of nurses locally, which has since accelerated with the demand from Britain, the United States as well as other Caribbean countries.
“Young nurses, because of the demand, they are not just satisfied in getting their license to practice, but they push to get appointed as a staff nurse, not just somebody who is temporary, not just ‘a SET nurse’. They become a staff nurse and then being appointed as a staff nurse here increases their entry point in the UK system” Gonsalves said on Sunday.
He said that he was “not blaming them for trying to use the system, but if you understand, we have an obligation to our people here who are paying for them and we will have a win/win situation. It’s just to put the thing in a little bit more of a balance. At the moment, in the current market situation, it is unbalanced”.
While he has yet to specify for how long nurses will be bonded, the prime minister said persons can opt out of being bonded if they forgo the government subsidy and pay the full cost of the nursing programme locally.
They can also pursue their training in Jamaica as well, at their own cost.