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Jamaica to lobby WHO over recruitment of nurses

Published:Friday | January 6, 2017 | 12:00 AMJerome Reynolds

With an ongoing concern about major foreign countries such as the United States and Canada bleeding Jamaica of its specialist care nurses, the Government is to lobby the international health community for help to stop the poaching of the island's nurses.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says he will be pushing the matter when he goes to Switzerland this month for a board meeting of the World Health Organisation (WHO), of which Jamaica is member.

According to Tufton, the WHO has a non-binding memorandum of understanding which asks countries not to recruit health-care workers from member states, to the extent that it creates hardship on the country from which they are recruiting.

"A number of the bigger countries have breached that concept. They have recruited nurses from Jamaica, through various means, and this has created major and severe consequences for our own Jamaica population and our health care," said Tufton.

"I have been raising the matter and I will be raising it again. It is not just a challenge for Jamaica, it is also a challenge for many countries which do not have the capacity to train enough nurses to lose them through recruitment.

"These countries end up having a shortfall, and it comes with consequences

for the administration of public health in their country. I intend to be a voice for this concern," added Tufton.

The health minister's disclosure came amid public concern about the shortage of nurses, especially specialist care nurses, after the chairman of the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), James Moss-Solomon, revealed that major surgeries at the hospital have been cancelled due, in part, to the chronic shortage of specialist critical care nurses.




Moss-Solomon told a monthly meeting of the Lions Club of Kingston last week that the recruitment of these nurses in droves by overseas entities is a major problem for the UHWI, which is a medical training hospital.

He said about 24 specialist nurses are trained each year, and half of them are recruited by overseas entities before graduation.

"We have doubled training for specialist nurses in 2016, and before the courses are complete, 50 per cent of them were already employed. It doesn't matter how many millions of dollars we care to put on a bonding system, USA, Canada, and UK, to a lesser extent, are quite happy to pay it off."

The issue of brain drain in the island's public health sector has been an ongoing battle for Jamaica, which finds it hard to retain these workers, who say they leave the system for better salaries and working conditions, among other push factors.




On Friday, The Gleaner confirmed that at least 10 specialist nurses in the Accident and Emergency Unit of the Kingston Public Hospital have resigned, effective the end of this month.

They are said to be heading to the proverbial 'greener pastures', putting a strain on the island's main trauma treatment facility.

President of the Nurses' Association of Jamaica, Janet Coore-Farr, has claimed that compensation is one of the major factors pushing nurses out of the public health system.

According to Coore-Farr, Jamaica loses between 150 and 200 nurses from the public system annually, with 170 mostly specialist nurses leaving the public sector for jobs overseas mostly between December 2015 and September 2016.

"They (the Government) claim that they can't pay the nurses like our overseas counterparts, but we are not asking them to pay what America, Canada or the UK pays. But Jamaica must move to a point where our nurses receive a liveable wage.

"We know it won't happen overnight, but we have to do something about the situation. We have a responsibility to ensure that we have nurses in Jamaica," argued Coore-Farr.