Nurses are either moving abroad for better pay or leaving the profession, noted policymakers and prominent healthcare professionals.
During a seminar at the Aga Khan University on Tuesday, participants agreed that nurses and midwives played a pivotal role on the frontlines against the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. The event was held ahead of World Nurses Day, which is celebrated on May 12 each year.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, the chief guest at the event, noted that demand for nurses worldwide was increasing. He said this was creating incentives for those practicing in Pakistan to move abroad.
"We are mindful of the fact that due to the global shortage of nurses, the demand worldwide has increased. This is giving our nurses the opportunity to migrate to high-income countries to improve their quality of life," he said. "This is definitely something we don't want to happen as there was already a shortage of 1.3 million nurses before the pandemic in Pakistan," the CM pointed out.
"Pakistan has one of the greatest shortages of trained nurses," said the Prime Minister's Special Assistant on Health Dr Faisal Sultan. "No healthcare system can deliver quality care without the input of trained and committed professionals in the nursing field."
Dr Sultan added that the government's national health taskforce was working to expand the education and training of nurses so that the country's nursing workforce continues to grow. In a recorded message, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho said one of the reasons behind Pakistan's shortage of nurses was that too few women were seeking out the profession.
Speakers noted that limited career paths, inadequate compensation, lack of respect and unsafe work environments were some of the factors contributing to nurses either leaving the profession or choosing to practice abroad.
They added that Pakistan is one of the five countries facing the largest deficits of nurses with the World Health Organisation also calling on the country to take steps to double its nursing workforce.
"Nurses have grown used to double shifts, no days offs and living at hospitals during the pandemic to keep the public safe," said AKU's School of Nursing and Midwifery Dean Professor Rozina Karmaliani. "They are also working at vaccination centres, hosting capacity building drives for their colleagues, volunteering at field isolation centres as well as managing tele-clinics, hotlines and home-health initiatives<" she said. "Despite being stretched, they are striving to do their best."
Commenting on steps to retain and encourage nurses to stay in the workforce, experts highlighted the need to promote advanced practice nursing (APN) qualifications. This enhances the skills of nurses and enables them to widen their scope of practice. This would involve the granting of licences to nurses and midwives with specialist qualifications, enabling them to run their own clinics.
Speaker said that, for example, an advanced practice registered nurse, who has specialised in non-communicable diseases, would be able to run his/her own tele-clinic or community clinic to care for patients with high blood pressure. Holding a licence would enable them to provide a higher level of care by permitting them to diagnose and treat patients and prescribe drugs.
Other speakers at the event included Aga Khan University Hospital, AKUH, CEO Dr Shahid Shafi, AKUH Chief Nursing Officer Salma Jaffer and AKU Medical College Dean Dr Adil Haider.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2021.