BY TENDAI MAKARIPE
GOVERNMENT has turned to retired nurses and training of Primary Care Nurses (PCNs) as a solution to the massive brain drain currently bleeding the country’s health sector, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.
Public health institutions are reeling from a mass exodus of health personnel threatening to cripple an already-ailing health delivery system.
Research has shown that midwives, theatre and registered nurses, among other critical staffers, are leaving the country en masse for greener pastures.
To deal with the headache of a disgruntled workforce, the government set up an inter-ministerial committee that proposed to incentivise health workers with non-monetary enticements that include staff accommodation, transport, vehicle loans, meals and Wi-Fi facilities.
However, most of the staff in the public health sector have misgivings about the incentives, arguing that they cannot supplement the meagre earnings.
“What they are saying is I should have something to eat so that I get the energy to offer my services,” a nurse stationed at Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo said.
“What about my family upkeep? How do I pay my children’s high school and college tuition fees with the paltry salary?”
With pressure mounting on the government to avoid a catastrophic health calamity, the Zanu PF administration has turned its sights on retired nurses to help salvage the situation.
Health Services Board public relations officer Tryfine Dzvukutu confirmed the development.
“To deal with the problem of nurses leaving the service, the government has embarked on service-wide recruitment of retired nurses up to the age of 70. So far we have recruited 88 retired nurses,” Dzvukutu said.
“The appointments of former health workers re-joining the service have also been decentralised. Additionally, graduating students from public nurse training institutions and local universities are also being integrated into the system.”
An official source privy to the developments said the government is recruiting Primary Care Nurses (PCNs) in a desperate bid to deal with the staffing situation.
A primary care nurse is a nursing professional, who works in a primary healthcare setting providing first level medical assistance to patients attending a hospital or a medical facility.
Primary healthcare workers have structured hours and scheduled patients, unlike nurses in hospitals who deal with emergencies.
“There was a PCN recruitment exercise conducted around September whose aim was to train personnel meant to bridge the yawning gap left by departing nurses,” the official said.
“Offhand, I do not have the exact figures of the number of PCNs recruited for training as I am currently out of office but what I can tell you is that it is a huge number.”
However, doctors who spoke to the Independent said recruiting PCNs as an alternative to Registered General Nurses (RGNs) was ill-advised.
“PCNs mainly cover rural areas yet critical staff leaving our institutions are mainly concentrated in towns and urban centres. We are talking of qualified RGNs, theatre nurses, midwives among others. What they are trying to do will have catastrophic results because PCNs are not as well versed as RGNs,” a doctor stationed at Sally Mugabe Hospital said. RGNs are more senior to the PCNs as they train for three years and are holders of diplomas and degrees whilst PCNs hold only elementary qualifications.
Analyst Jethro Makumbe said the government was not addressing the underlying problems of improving workers’ salaries.
“Reengaging retired nurses and mass recruitment of PCNs is not a solution to the problem. What people need are better salaries and good working conditions. Health personnel will always flock outside the country for as long as these issues are not addressed,” he said.
“Our civil servants are among the least paid in the region. Because of this, the country will continue to lose experienced personnel.”
The National Development Strategy (NDS1) seeks to enhance public health and well-being as one of its key pillars but the attainment of this objective hangs in the balance for as long as underlying problems affecting personnel in the health sector are not addressed.