BY TENDAI MAKARIPE
GOVERNMENT has approved the awarding of employment contracts to third-year nursing students to plug the hole left by the mass exodus of health professionals which threatens to cripple the health sector.
According to an internal document written by the Health Services Board (HSB) to the Finance ministry, the 608 student nurses will be given three months contracts from January to March 2022.
“The 4th wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a number of health workers, especially nurses, falling sick because it is spreading faster than the previous variants, creating an increased workload on those that are on duty. It is anticipated that with the passing of the 4th wave, normalcy will return to health institutions.
“In the meantime, as a strategic intervention, the (Permanent) Secretary for Health and Child Care has requested that student nurses who are doing their final 3rd year be deployed to wards on a full-time basis for a period of three months (January to March 2022). It is therefore requested that the 608 eligible student nurses be paid at the level of junior nurses (D1) from their current grade of C4 for a period of three months,” wrote the HSB in a letter dated December 18, 2021.
Last year, a significant number of local health workers left the country in droves for Europe and the Americas where demand for nurses, doctors, caregivers and midwives, among other professionals, spiked due to Covid-19-related deaths that claimed the lives of health professionals.
In response to the impact of Covid-19 on the health care sector, the British Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, launched a Health and Care Visa in 2020 to ensure the United Kingdom (UK) health and care services have access to the best global talent.
The new Health and Care Visa makes it cheaper, quicker and easier for healthcare professionals from around the world to move to the UK for work.
Contacted for comment, HSB director of communications Tryfine Dzvukutu referred questions to the Ministry of Health and Child Care.
“We specifically deal with the recruitment of qualified nurses and not student nurses. The latter falls under the ambit of the ministry. They are better positioned to comment on the matter,” Dzvukutu said.
Health and Child Care deputy minister John Mangwiro, in turn however, directed the inquiry back to HSB.
“I only deal with policy issues. Anything that has to do with the recruitment of nurses is the prerogative of the HSB headed by Paulinus Sikhosana,” he said.
Attractive salaries ranging from £35 000 (US$47 231,98) per annum for qualified nurses has been one of the pull factors driving Zimbabwean nurses into the diaspora.
Official sources in the Health and Child Care ministry revealed that the departure of nurses for Europe is worsening hence the latest recruitment of third-year nursing students was seen as an immediate solution to the problem.
“The Minister and the Health Services Board approved the move and we are waiting for funding from the Treasury.
“However, the programme is expected to start as soon as the funds have been made available. Details regarding the duration of the contracts and likely remuneration will be availed in due course,” a source privy to the developments said.
The problem of chronic underfunding as well as the socio-economic and political challenges being experienced at institutional level in the country’s public health system has led to a massive brain drain in the sector.
To deal with the worsening situation, the government has proposed a myriad of short-term solutions that have done little if anything to halt the crippling brain drain.
“While this move by the UK government strengthens its own health system, it will undoubtedly cause an increase in outward migration of well-trained and experienced Zimbabwean health workers looking for an opportunity for better working and living conditions,” said public health expert Tafadzwa Dzinamarira.
Zimbabwe is currently grappling to contain the devastating effects of HIV and Tuberculosis (TB) with approximately 1,3 million of its citizens living with HIV. Nurses and other health professionals are instrumental in the country’s HIV and TB response which has prompted the government to act decisively to put a lid on the challenge.
While some analysts have celebrated the proposed move arguing that it was a common trend around the region that student nurses get to be employed, albeit on a contract basis to help registered general nurses, others say the initiative is likely to backfire.
“The situation in our hospitals is not conducive for on-the-job training. When student nurses arrive at a health institution, the qualified ones immediately fold their hands and leave the half-baked nurses to do all the work.
“In this case, a lot of mistakes are bound to happen. Unlike doctors who stand up for each other, matrons rarely support student nurses, leaving them on the receiving end of regulations if anything goes wrong,” a registered nurse based in Mutare said.