Pressure is building in the local health care sector, with the president of the Barbados Nurses Association (BNA) Blondelle Mullin yesterday sounding a serious warning to Government that immediate action needs to be taken to remedy the current nurses shortage.
Speaking at the launch of Nurses Week during a church service at the Pegwell Community Church on Sunday, Mullin reported that the situation was already approaching crisis point in a number of general wards, where nurses were now forced to attend to as many as 12 patients at a time.
“The ideal thing would be one nurse to every four patients. [But] in cases like the Clinical Care Unit, the Intensive Care Unit, the High Dependence Unit . . . sometimes you have one nurse for two patients [when] it really should be one for one,” Mullin told Barbados TODAY.
She further explained, “In the general wards that have 24 beds, and you would have two or three nurses working with those 24 patients.”
As a result, she said some nurses were now forced to work double shifts, in addition to caring for a higher quota of patients.
The BNA president also reported that the current shortage was impacting negatively on training, since nurses were not being allowed to go on study leave.
“They are not getting the time [to train] because of the shortage. They are not getting to go off and do the studying for things like midwifery, gerontology, and community health nursing.
“They haven’t done those courses for the last two years or so, [and] because they can’t get the time to do these courses to help in their development they are becoming a bit frustrated,” she told Barbados TODAY, while stressing the need for the overall nurses complement to be increased.
Currently there are 3,419 registered nurses, 1,609 nursing assistants, 1,207 midwives, 804 psychiatric nurses, 14 gerontology nurses, and 1,553 nursing auxiliaries employed at Government-run health care institutions.
However, Mullin said ongoing retirement and expatriation of nurses have served to compound the current inadequacies in the public sector.
Mullin also highlighted the opening last year of the David Thompson Health and Social Services Complex in St John, saying it had amounted to an added strain on the system since it was pulling from the already low pool of professionals.
At the same time, the nurses’ president said the grouping of health care professionals was coming under increasing pressure to cover the health care requirements of the island.
“Here in Barbados there are increasing health challenges relating to the aging population. A rise in chronic diseases and other long term conditions, growing citizens expectations for more and better health
services and technological progress,”
And while there has been recent talk of Government cutting back on its annual health care budget of in excess of $700 million per year, she said the current circumstances created a legitimate expectation of increased funding for public health services.
“Government needs to invest in the health workforce to strengthen health systems.
“All people should have access to competent nurses to provide care and supervision across the range of settings.”
Mullin said that in order to increase the morale of nurses in Barbados, health systems need “to scale up nursing capacity and encompass a range of strategies that address workforce planning education, skill mates, regulatory frameworks, and career pathways to ensure effective, efficient and safe health systems”.