ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 43

Recruiting nightingales no easy task

By Isuri Kaviratne

Solution to shortage soon: Minister

The Health Ministry said the shortage of nursing staff would soon be a thing of the past. On Thursday 1200 new nurses were awarded letters of appointments by President Mahinda Rajapaksa with the participation of Health Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva.

Minister de Silva said 22,635 nurses have been recruited since 1995 and the issue of the shortage of nurses would be addressed within the next few years.

Government hospitals have been hit by a severe shortage of nurses resulting in a heavy work load on nurses and less attention for each patient, as the Government continues its efforts to increase the nursing strength up to 45,000 within the next three years.

It is estimated the nurses-patient ratio has increased to 1:986

It is estimated the nurses-patient ratio has increased to 1:986.

According to official figures the present number of nurses is around 20,000 and in addition some 65,000 pupil nurses are available for service.

Despite the fresh efforts to increase the nursing staff, the nurses unions doubt the strength would be increased as nurses were being attracted to the private sector while some go for overseas employment.Government Nursing Officers’ Association Secretary Jayantha Wimalasiri said there was a 50% shortage of nurses.

“The shortage is having a dual impact. Nurses have problems in getting leave and transfers while patients have the problem of being neglected. I think all mistakes made by nurses are due to their heavy work load”, he said.“Nurses are facing many problems due to this shortage. They have to work round the clock sometimes,” he said.

“A few years ago, only around 200 nurses were given three-year’s no-pay leave to go abroad whereas now it had increased to 600. Most of the nurses who go do not return to the country. So, in that way also, the country loses a certain amount of nurses,” Mr. Wimalasiri said.

“New units are being built in hospitals and new wards and operating theatres opened, though only a certain amount of nurses enter the profession every year. So, however hard the Government tries to fill the shortage, it won’t be a success,” he said.

“The Colombo National Hospital has a shortage of 600 nurses while 378 of the 1770 nurses working there are on transfer orders this year,” he said.

Colombo National Hospital Director Hector Weerasinghe said the shortage of nurses had affected the hospital and was the main reason for sufficient operations, especially cardiac operations, cannot be performed at the hospital,

“We have enough doctors. But it takes three years to produce a nurse and a nurse should go through a special training to work in a cardiac surgery unit or in an ICU. We lack nurses with that training.

If we get more nurses this year, we can perform more operations” he said.

“We can perform operations day and night but we don’t have enough beds in the ICU to put the patients in and we cannot put more beds into the ICU because we don’t have enough nurses to take care of the patients in the ICU,” Dr. Weerasinghe said.

Doctor Chandima Amarasena, a senior consultant of the Cardio-Thoracic Unit in the Colombo National Hospital said the lack of nurses and junior doctors had an impact on the number of operations performed per day.

“We cannot perform more operations because if an emergency occurs, we won’t be able to take immediate action as we have a shortage of nurses,” he said adding that operations cannot be postponed due to that reason either.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.