Trinidad spent TT$34m in three years on foreign nurses

(Trinidad Express) The Ministry of Health has spent some TT$34 million in the past three years bringing foreign nurses from Cuba, Phillipines, St Vincent and other countries, Health Minister Fuad Khan said yesterday. He was piloting the Nurses and Midwives Registration Act in the House of Representatives, Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.
The bill provides for a new cadre of nurses, called the advanced nurse practitioners, changes the composition of the nursing council board (from 22 to 15) and provides for the removal of the licensing examination for graduates out of a training programme accredited by the Accreditation Council as a provision for the mandatory continuation of education for all nursing personnel. The law would also include males in the definition of midwife.
“This level of discrimination is no longer practised today,” the minister stated. Khan said the health sector was facing a crisis in which there was a shortage of nursing staff, notwithstanding the injection of more than 300 foreign nurses. He said Trinidad and Tobago nurses continue to migrate to more developed countries offering more attractive packages. He said the present legislation was a detriment to attracting students. The system includes the three- chance system, which requires a student to redo the entire programme once they fail an exam three times. The minister said there was a high failure rate of graduates sitting the Nursing Council examination, which a graduate student must do before practising as a nurse. Forty per cent of graduates from training institutions, which offer a basic education in nursing, fail the licensing examination of the Council, Khan said. He said under the current system each student is allowed three chances to write the Nursing Council exam within a five-year period, after which the studentship ends. Furthermore, a student can be removed from the register after the second unsuccessful attempt at the entrance exam, the second unsuccessful attempt at the practical or written exam, the third unsuccessful attempt at the practical or written final exam. He said he had received numerous letters pleading for the removal of the onerous provisions.
“I want to afford these graduates the opportunity to work and enjoy the profession that they have invested so heavily in.” Khan said the new law would afford persons who have acquired a nursing degree or diploma from a recognised institution after January 2008 to be entitled to a provisional certificate as a nurse intern. These persons can rewrite the council exam while working in the public hospital.
The law provides for the creation of the new category called a nurse intern. This person would work under supervision while preparing for the council examination. Khan said this would provide for more nursing personnel on the wards. He said the intern, however, must sit the Nursing Council examination within 15 months of the grant of the provisional certificate. The provisional certificate is valid for four years, during which time the person should pass the exam. Khan said the law would create the title of “advanced practical nurse”. He said in the United States they are called “physician assistants”. “These are nurses who are highly specialised and are trained to examine patients, prescribe medication as well as run clinics on their own. It has proven to be a benefit in the primary health-care system where we cannot get doctors to go into the rural areas. These nurses are trained to such a level that they function as general practitioners.” Khan added that they can therefore be used in main health centres and allow for the centres to open later, as well as on weekends.

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