Health Minister Dr Bheri Ramsaran yesterday challenged claims by the Guyana Nurses Association (GNA) that the quality of training in Guyana has declined but he promised to address several of its concerns.
The GNA on Monday held a press briefing at which it sounded its concerns over the current Registered Nurses Programme, including overcrowding, which it said has affected the quality of tuition and the competence of the nurses that graduate.
Speaking with Stabroek News, GNA President Joan Stewart said, “Over the years there was a shortage of nurses and we can understand why the ministry trained large batches. However, that gap has been filled and there is no need to train all those nurses at one time since it overcrowds the institution and students then cannot learn effectively… Besides there are only about 10 tutors for sometimes 155 to 175 here and another 125 students there. What then happens to the lecturers? How can that be effective training? I am saying go back to training 25 per year.”
Stewart said that they will be urging the Ministry of Health to cease the intake of students and also to halt the commencement of another programme altogether this year, since the tutors are overwhelmed and there are too many nurses on the wards at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.
“At one ward at GPHC there is bed spacing of 450. On any given day on average there are about 350 persons present in those wards but you have 500 odd nurses in the wards. How is that practical? There are just too many nurses,” she said.
High failure rate
Stewart also said that when trainee nurses have completed the theoretical aspects of the programme and begin practicals on the ward, that too overwhelms nurses on duty there.
The reason, she said, is that the failure rate in the nursing programmne is high so incompetent trainees are promoted and thus cannot function on “in-ward practicals.”
“The failure rate is high at the nursing school so what you have is that people not wanting to fail so many of them, so they let them pass. These nurses don’t have the leadership skills or competence to function so they always have to be asking how much of this, show me this, and all kind of things,” she said.
“If you have to give a patient 20ml of vials, you cannot guess; you are not giving medication to pigs or mannequins. A trained nurse now will have to leave off what they are doing on an already overcrowded ward to assist. That is why there are so many near misses and near deaths recorded. Now they want to put another one-something where? We are saying no training this year. We don’t want nobody! …If they want to train a lot of nurses then hire plenty tutors or train clinical instructors, bring back old nurses who can teach these young ones something – just do something about this situation,” she added.
But Ramsaran told Stabroek News that the fact that countries in the Caribbean and further afield “grab our nurses because they know they are the best” flies in the face of Stewart’s concerns.
“I know for a fact that they are technically qualified, however their attitudes is what needs addressing hence we emphasize the word “caring” whenever addressing them. I know the Florence Nightingale era is over but we still need the bang for our dollars,” he said.
The minister added that there is always an upgrade of the nursing curriculum to try to keep abreast with the global education mobilization of nurses. As a result, he noted, a course in computer studies was included in the nurses’ curriculum.
Ramsaran further said that personnel from other countries are often hired by the ministry to train and teach Guyanese nurses about various medical machinery and apparatus. He singled out the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), saying that it continuously helps with the revamping of the curriculum. He also noted that the health sector is allocated more money than many of the other sectors in the government budget.
Additionally, Ramsaran said that he was extremely happy and pleased that the GNA had stepped into the forefront to address issues affecting nurses. He noted that the ministry had designated a day of every week to meet with the nurses association but said that from 2006 to date there have only been two meetings. As a result, he hoped that with their current vocal stance, the nurses will engage with the ministry.
In response, Stewart, however, said that she was oblivious to the fact that there were bi-weekly meetings with the minister and ministry of health personnel.
“What? Meetings with whom? I will find out because I know nothing about it and the Nursing Association knows nothing about it so I will consult with the executives and we will be going to those meetings,” she said.
She also noted that she was only appointed to her current post last year but will endeavour to use the times allocated to meet with the relevant authorities in an attempt to iron out issues affecting the nursing sector.