Thursday, December 29 2016

THE MIGRATION of Caribbean nurses to greener pastures in the UK and US is a decades-old reality, yet could be now re-fuelled by a fresh impetus of “pull” and “push” factors that TT must keenly engage for the sake of our health system. A warning note was sounded by TT Registered Nurses Association president, Idi Stewart, who revealed a new thrust by the UK to recruit Caribbean nurses in light of the impending Brexit arrangements, which logic suggests will lead the UK to shift its sourcing of nurses from the eastern and southern European nations - from whence 29 percent of NHS nurses now originate to the formerly-favoured Commonwealth including the Caribbean.

Already are reports from the UK of European nurses in dire uncertainty as to their status when Brexit eventually kicks in, with some already planning their own exit, even as Mr Stewart said British recruiters are now in TT seeking nurses to fill vacancies in their National Health Service.

The Brexit lure on the TT nurse may be coupled with concerns in TT over crime and the economy, on top of traditional “push” factors that seemingly offer brighter prospects overseas. Paradoxically even as the TT Ministry of Health faces the outbound lure of TT nurses to the North, TT itself has in recent years engaged foreign nurses from places such as the Philippines, Cuba, and the Eastern Caribbean.

The UK itself is losing nurses to sunnier climes such as Australia, amid a steady decline from 2004 to 2012 in UK nationals studying nursing that levelled off since 2012.

So, TT is just like everyone else in assessing how to maintain nursing staff levels, by both retaining its local nurses and fill a shortfall by foreign recruitment. So far, this country’s best safeguards against a brain-drain of nurses seem to be firstly the recognition by the British authorities of the severe effect on small nations of a mass recruitment of the local nurses whose training, including stipend, would have been paid for at considerable expense to indigenous taxpayers.

Secondly, a nurse’s standard contractual arrangement mandates that she serves her country for an equivalent period for which she had received training.

While TT nurses may benefit themselves by better wages, working conditions, professional recognition, career prospects, and general lifestyle opportunities afforded to them and their families by migration to a developed country, TT can also benefit by remittances and their experiences should they ever return to serve in TT’s health system.

Yet TT’s ongoing economic lull and the GATE debate leads us to ask if TT can afford to continue to fund the training of nurses who might migrate after at earliest opportunity? Shouldn’t the receiving country, UK or US, pay a sum of compensation to TT’s Ministry of Health for each nurse or midwife sent abroad? Further, how can the Ministry encourage nurses to stay here upon fulfilling their contractual work period? Should that period be extended? Should wages, working conditions, specialist training and career prospects be improved? How can a better environment be offered to our nurses both during training such as to avert any repeat of last October’s protest by Costaat nursing students over late payment of stipends and during their working careers? We endorse Mr Stewart’s call in an interview with Newsday yesterday for a better basic safety net for nurses facing job hazards - such as microbial infection and physical injury - by way of enhanced sickleave and full insurance coverage.

Stewart also urged better security of tenure and a higher specialisation allowance to reward years of extra study for nurses. While TT likely cannot match every incentive offered by UK and US recruiters, we must find ways of appreciating nurses who are the backbone of our public health system. If we do not act, we will in fact be nursing serious problems for our health sector.

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