Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan’s attempts to address the shortage of nurses by amending the Nurses and Midwives Registration Act in the Lower House yesterday was described by Opposition MP Dr Amery Browne as “very dangerous.” Browne demanded a complete withdrawal of the bill. “The bill is not ready. It should be withdrawn.” Browne cited a proposal to allow the minister to bring in foreign nurses in the event of a national disaster and have them operate as if issued with a licence as the most dangerous aspect.
“Authorised quacks!” one of his colleagues shouted in apparent disbelief. Browne added: “Times of emergency should be times of reason and the minister should not be given such control of nursing personnel. We have highly qualified and responsible nurses here.” Browne charged Khan made the amendments by consulting only the Nursing Council and left out a constellation of nursing groups. He said the amendments amounted to a general lowering of requirements to become a nurse.
He claimed members of the Nursing Council were quite alarmed when Khan, in a media interview, said all that was required to be a nurse was one secondary school subject and a passion for nursing. That was “toxic” to the ears of those with a knowledge of nursing, Browne told the House. He said nurses were under threat and Khan’s presentation was “clinical, almost surgical,” indicating disrespect for the beleaguered nursing fraternity.
He said he wanted to dismantle any notion that the minister had an appreciation of the health sector. Browne said there was no definition of a registered nurse in the bill and what existed right now in the health sector was “a little free-for-all,” with a variety of people looking like nurses and acting like nurses but who were really not nurses at all. One of Khan’s proposed amendments was to allow disqualified nursing students to operate on a provisional certificate until they can pass the exam.
Khan said he had got numerous complaints from former nursing students, who said most of their failures were in practical exams in 2008, where there was often one educator to about 100 students and they did not get the required attention. He said it was heart-wrenching to hear the plight of students who failed the exams and had to start back from scratch after four years, or abandon the profession altogether.
Khan said an increase in nurses would allow for rural health clinics to open later. He said in the recent Beetham landfill fire hazard, when toxic smoke posed a threat to many, the ministry was unable to open clinics later than usual because of the shortage of nurses. Khan said the ministry was hoping to construct a training academy for nurses, doctors and other health professionals.
But Browne dismissed Khan’s proposal to allow nurses to enter the system with one subject, saying it all amounted to “an excessive lowering of the bar.” The solution, he said, had to do with addressing the conditions of the physical and financial systems under which nurses work.
He said registered nurses get all the blame from the public but are stretched ‘thin like rubber bands,” supervising enrolled nursing assistants, patient care assistants and aides to nurses, while working under acute hardship in several health institutions. He said in some cases there was no water to bathe a patient.
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