SYLVESTER CHISHIMBA, Lusaka
COMPLAINTS from the general public and patients about how long it takes to be attended to by nurses at various health centres has been a daily song for years.
Such experiences have been due to understaffing in various health centres countrywide.
For Hudson Phiri, who has been working as a nurse for many years at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH), said there are a lot of challenges when it comes to effectively carrying out duties due to critical understaffing levels in his section.
â€œWe work under a lot of pressure as we take care of the sick. At times, we even do that which is supposed to be done by doctors. We hardly get time to rest because of the low staffing levels,â€ he said.
Mr Phiri hoped for a time when nurses will only do that which they are trained to do, adding that in that way, it is justifiable to hold them accountable if ever something went wrong.
And Grace Mwandila, a branch chairperson for Zambia Union of Nurses Organisation (ZUNO) at Lusaka Trust Hospital, said the main issue challenging the nursing fraternity is shift-tasking and work overload.
â€œWe do a lot of work out of our jurisdictions for us to provide effective healthcare to patients. For instance, when a patient is being discharged and thereâ€™s no pharmacist, we are forced to work in his or her position,â€ she said.
During the recent commemoration of the International Nursesâ€™ Day themed: â€˜Nurses: A Force for Change; Care Effective, Cost Effectiveâ€™, Minister of Community Development, Mother and Child Health Emerine Kabanshi said the theme leverages on the contribution that nurses make and acknowledges that as a profession, nursing reaches out to people.
â€œNurses are at the core of attaining the best quality, access, cost balance and it is essential that nurses and policy makers focus on the nursing role in care and cost effective healthcare systems as these are the determinants for achieving equity, delivering universal health coverage and ultimately improving health outcomes,â€ she said.
Ms Kabanshi said the shortage of the nursing personnel in Zambia is a thorny issue that has continued to keep government on its toes.
â€œThis has been as a result of increased demand for healthcare services due to increased population, disease burden and to some extent staff attrition – the number of frontline health personnel in the country stands at 13,147, which is roughly about 50 percent of the national health establishment,â€ she said.
Ms Kabanshi said Government in response to combating the critical shortage of the nursing personnel has been implementing the national training operational plan since 2013, which aims at increasing the availability of health personnel, enhancing infrastructure and improving the provision of drugs and medical equipment.
She said Government has commenced the construction of two new training institutions in Senanga in Western Province and Levy Mwanawasa General Hospital in addition to the 27 other health training institutions that are currently undergoing rehabilitation and expansion around the country.
Ms Kabanshi said Government has plans to recruit additional health staff so that the overall number of nursing personnel increases by 2,000 to bring the total to over 15,000.
â€œAll these initiatives are intended to accelerate the supply of the nursing personnel by increasing the number of graduates from the current 5,500 to 10,000 every year. As Government, we shall not relent until our targets and aspirations for quality and affordable healthcare to our citizens is fulfilled,â€ she said.
ZUNO vice-president for labour affairs Perpetual Kalobwe said during the commemoration that it is essential that nurses and policy makers focus on the nursing role in ensuring care effective and cost effective healthcare systems as a key priority for achieving better health for all.
Ms Kalobwe said currently, nurses have overstretched themselves through multi-tasking in order to effectively fulfil their duties in various health set ups for the sake of their beloved patients
â€œIt is critical that as Government undertakes the ambitious program to build health centres in all districts, it must also consider employing acceptable numbers of nurses to ensure the attainment of cost effective and effective quality health for all,â€ she said.
Ms Kalobwe said through their multi-tasking skills, nurses have served a lot of Government funds, which could have been spent employing the various other cadres, whose roles they have taken up in addition to their hectic nursing duties.
â€œWe hope this trend will soon be reversed so that nurses can concentrate on their responsilbilities because the universal health coverage, which aims to ensuring that everyone has access to healthcare, will be hindered as a result of lower and inadequate staffing levels of nurses. It is only the right number of nurses in the right locations with the right skills that will determine the success or failure of the universal health coverage initiative.
â€œSurprisingly, despite much talked about serious shortage of nurses in our health institutions, nurse graduates are unable to find employment. Hundreds of qualified nurses are jobless because the health system does not have sufficient funds to employ them and pay for their services,â€ she said.
Ms Kalobwe appealed to Government to reconsider its stance on the freeze of recruitment of nurses as the 2,000 health workers budgeted for in the 2015 recruitment is not enough to make a positive impact.
â€œGovernment must make deliberate strides to unlock and restore the broken relationship with nurses due to some past unrest, working under pressure is always a recipe for poor outcomes because it is always just for formality,â€ she said.
Government has been implementing significant health sector reforms, aimed at strengthening health service delivery in order to improve the health status of Zambians. The reforms have yielded significant results in form of strengthened health systems, improved access to health care and improved health outcomes as reported in the 2007 Zambia Demographic Health Survey.
However, these achievements are yet to put Zambia on course to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the end of 2015. The country has remained under significant pressure to further reduce the disease burden and improve the health status of Zambians. This plan is an attempt to significantly impact on service delivery and accelerate the attainment of the MDGs and other national priorities.
The Ministry of Health is committed to re-organising and managing the sector in an efficient, effective and prudent manner that would significantly improve health service delivery and with appropriate levels of commitment and support from the Government, co-operating partners, health workers and other key stakeholders, the National Health Strategic Plan 2011-2015 will significantly improve the health status of Zambians and significantly contribute to national development.
SYLVESTER CHISHIMBA, Lusaka