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April 1, 2022
Staff shortage as nurses leave Hospital Services

by Bria king

The local nursing sector is experiencing one of the highest attrition rates it has ever seen, as Vincentian nurses opt to resign from their posts to seek greener pastures abroad due to poor working conditions and lack of respect in the field. 

Almost 60 nurses are said to have resigned in 2021 from Hospital Services for several reasons, and SEARCHLIGHT understands that the issue continues to pervade the Ministry of Health, with handfuls of nurses submitting their resignations on a weekly basis. 

It is also understood that some of these nurses are then recruited to work abroad in countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States. 

“The physical conditions; the sluices are deplorable, nurses’ station desks sometimes have woodlice and all these little things, not the proper beds,” a nurse, who migrated to work in England recently told SEARCHLIGHT in an interview. 

For this registered nurse, the poor working conditions and attitude of senior nurses contributed to her decision to leave St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG). 

And she believes these to be the same reasons for other nurses submitting their resignations as well. 

From her experience working at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, she explained that nurses often have to use empty boxes to position patients based on their condition, as most beds are not in working condition. 

She also noted that locally, there is usually one nurse and a nursing assistant assigned to look after 30 patients, which does not allow for proper individualised care to be given. 

“If you have 30 patients, it’s hard for you to pick up on needs that are really affected in comparison to when you have 10 and 7 and 6,” the nurse said, explaining that in England, she works on a ward with 10 patients, which allows for each patient to receive proper care and attention. 

SEARCHLIGHT was able to obtain an official report this week which highlighted the state of attrition across major health facilities in this country. 

Poor working conditions is the first reason outlined in the report for why nurses continue to resign from the local nursing sector. 

Other reasons given include: staff shortage, which left them ‘burnt out’; unavailability and often shortage of supplies which causes frustration in getting simple tasks/procedures done; and low salary compared to other regions. 

The report notes that a total of 58 nurses resigned in 2021 from Hospital Services: 37 resigned from their posts, 21 nurses received letters of abandonment due to the government’s vaccine mandate and five nursing aides also left due to the vaccine policy. 

So far, for 2022, there have been at least 17 resignations — the majority of which are from the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital. 

At the country’s main hospital, six staff nurses and four nursing assistants have resigned. 

There have been six resignations — two staff nurses and four nursing assistants — from the Modern Medical and Diagnostic Centre. 

One staff nurse resigned from the Lewis Punnett Home. 

“If persons are comfortable, and minds are comfortable, they wouldn’t be leaving to go anywhere. Training needs to be in place for these ward managers. These managers need to know how to speak, they need to know how to listen first and foremost. Some of them don’t take the time to listen,” the Vincentian nurse who migrated to England said. 

Another Vincentian nurse currently employed in England told SEARCHLIGHT that she was employed via the SET programme before she sought employment overseas. 

Her nursing colleagues, who have also followed a similar route, have complained that senior nurses often treat them with a lack of respect and “treat them like they are children, talk to them anyhow…” 

Statistics from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) of the United Kingdom show that as at September 30, 2021, there were a total of 41 people registered in England, who had been trained initially in St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

SEARCHLIGHT understands that the NMC’s statistics are updated every six months. 

The figure recorded at the end of September 2021 represents 25 more than were registered just six months prior at the end of March.

Though the physical conditions of health facilities are markedly improved, nurses who have migrated to the UK attest to working 12-hour shifts, and sometimes enduring subtle racism from both patients and colleagues. 

These nurses also noted that contrary to popular belief, salaries abroad are not significantly different from what is being offered locally. 

On average, nurses are paid a basic salary of just over £2000, and extra shifts on the weekends and holidays are likely to earn them between £300 and £600 more. 

But after taxes, rent, food, transportation and other costs, little is left. 

“I know of persons who have husbands or children who are up here and are meeting it really hard because their husbands are up here, not working and they are the sole breadwinner and they have children,” one nurse told SEARCHLIGHT. 

“Many of them are saying how they regret but many of them don’t want to go back because one; they’re gonna be like ‘oh they went away and —‘; they’re afraid of the shame and what people are going to say, the perception people are going to make.” 

Another nurse said she is currently in the process of applying for her US visa and intends to do her entrance exam in the USA so she can work there once her current contract in the UK expires in December 2023. 

About 419 staff positions have been budgeted for across several health facilities including the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, Lewis Punnett Home, Modern Medical and Diagnostic Centre, Georgetown Smart Hospital and Arygle Isolation Facility. 

The official report obtained by SEARCHLIGHT indicates at least 78 vacancies as at March 24, 2022. 

The Ministry of Health, two Fridays ago issued a release asking nurses and nursing assistants to “report urgently” to the permanent secretary at the ministry, if they were interested in employment. 

The call for nurses and nursing assistants remains open to date.