by Vuyo Mkhize

Nursing the healthcare sector

Health minister shakes things up in the nursing sector

Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi shakes things up in the nursing sector
Nursing the healthcare sector

Almost two years ago, the national department of health convened a nursing summit to address nursing challenges in the country. Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi's appointed eight-member ministerial task team has now developed a plan of action to address education and practice issues in the profession and launched the National Strategic Plan.

The plan aims to revitalise the ailing sector, which has in the past been beleaguered by issues such as lack of resources, staff shortages, fly-by-night institutions, inconsistent staff-patient ratios, lack of equipment, workplace violence and shortages in medication.

“The nursing services are the heartbeat of primary healthcare … it might be easy to forget that the nursing fraternity helped achieve something we couldn’t have in three years – (increasing) life expectancy (from 56 to 60 years).

“People may wonder what it has to do with nursing, but in terms of expanding HIV programmes, we couldn’t have done it without nurses,” Motsoaledi said.

The minister said while nursing and midwifery were critical in working against the country’s burden of disease, there were critical staff shortages in both fields.

According to the plan, which was published last week, one of the strongest and most urgent recommendations is the need for nursing colleges to be declared higher education institutions in compliance with the provisions of the Higher Education Act (as amended in 2008).

“This will help to address provincial inequalities, norms and standards, quality, decrease fragmentation, eliminate fly-by-night nursing education institutions (NEIs), improve clinical training and enhance social accountability,” the document reads.

“Nursing students should have the status of full students (rather than employees) while undergoing training. They should receive funding support paid monthly for tuition books and study materials, as well as living costs, medical aid and indemnity insurance, while tuition fees should be paid directly to the NEIs”.

The plan further addresses the need to emphasise modules that focus on caring, and these should be compulsory at all levels of nursing and midwifery. This should help address the issue of compassion in the profession.

Also addressed by the plan is the replacement of uniform allowances with the direct provision of contemporary white uniforms to nurses.

It also significantly proposes that an office for the chief nursing officer be established, which will then take responsibility for the implementation of the strategy over the next five years.

While the strategy was largely welcomed by nursing practitioners attending the launch, there were still concerns surrounding the selection criteria for nurses’ training, particularly with regard to the cut-off age for those enrolling as student nurses.

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