Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony and Opposition Parliamentarian with responsibility for the health sector, Dr. Karen Cummings on Thursday clashed on how Guyana’s nurse shortage issue should be addressed.
These parliamentarians spoke on Thursday during the 2024 budget debates in the National Assembly at Liliendaal, Georgetown.
Dr. Cummings, who was the third speaker of the day, commended the government for building new hospitals and healthcare facilities across the country but contended that those facilities will not be adequately staffed if nurses continue to migrate in droves.
“Each hospital must be adequately staffed,” Dr. Cummings said.
The Opposition Parliamentarian suggested that Guyanese nurses are being easily recruited overseas because they are offered more attractive salaries than what they are paid locally.
This problem has been brewing for some time with local nurses being recruited for work overseas. At its end-of-year press conference, the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) said the hospital has an overall deficit of about 600 nurses for optimum patient care. And GPHC’s Chief Executive Officer Robbie Rambarran said some 107 nurses resigned in 2022.
Subsequently, Dr. Anthony noted that additional Cuban nurses are being recruited as the government expands local training programmes.
Dr. Cummings, however, said hiring foreign nurses to quell the problem is not acceptable. She also said postgraduate training for nurses “will not cut it.” According to her, nurses and other healthcare workers must be better paid.
Dr. Anthony, who spoke just after Dr. Cummings, was particularly animated in his response to her comments on the issue.
He highlighted that nurses’ salaries, under the APNU+AFC government from 2015 to 2020, saw their salaries increase by about 33%. And he noted that since 2020, when the PPP/C returned to office, salaries have increased by about 71%.
Further, Dr. Anthony said this nursing issue isn’t one that Guyana alone is grappling with.
“Migration of nurses is a global phenomenon… but what is important is what we do,” he said.
The Health Minister posited that the government is responding to this issue by training far more nurses now than before and those healthcare workers will be employed as soon as they complete their studies.
Outside of labour shortages, Dr. Anthony defended the mammoth $129.8 billion allocation for the health sector in the $1.14 trillion 2024 budget.
A huge chunk of those funds will be spent on building 12 new hospitals across the country and upgrading several other facilities. Dr. Anthony also said substantial investments are being made in plans to tackle key health issues like breast and cervical cancer.