The annual meeting of the Regional Nursing Body which advises governments in the region on health care issues is being held in Cayman this week.
In opening comments to the four-day conference, health minister Mark Scotland described this meeting of nursing professionals as essential, “for the nursing fraternity is experiencing myriad changes and challenges”.
He told the delegates that their work put them on the front lines of health care.
The Regional Nursing Body was established in 1972 with the purpose of advising ministries of health on issues relating to medical care and nursing and to improve nursing education and service within the Caribbean.
“It has been an important force in the region in advancing the education, practice, research and policy agenda in nursing and midwifery,” Mr. Scotland said.
The minister said the Regional Nursing Body had helped upgrade schools of nursing, provided accreditation to schools of nursing, developed a regional examination and reviewed post graduate nursing programmes.
He said the organisation was the driving force behind CARICOM’s Council for Human and Social Development decision to have all schools of nursing within the region convert to the Bachelor of Science degree in nursing as the entry level to nursing.
“I, therefore, regard this meeting as an invaluable forum for identifying regional trends and opportunities that will help shape the policy agenda that you present to your administrators and lawmakers. Certainly, as the need for quality care continues to expand, stagnating along policy sidelines is no longer an option. Instead, I believe you are uniquely positioned to play a broad leadership role in the future health of our communities,” he said.
Mr. Scotland outlined the impact of a worldwide shortage of nurses, especially in the Caribbean region. According to the World Bank, he said, only 25 per cent of nurses in the English-speaking Caribbean work in their own countries, with many locally trained nurses recruited to work in the US or UK. “The huge majority moves abroad, where working and living conditions are significantly better,” he said.
“With this in mind, your deliberations might well consider how to regionally improve the nursing environment so that professionals will want to stay and make a difference at home,” he added.
He said he hoped the delegates would address how to attract new nurses and recruit more students to the profession of nursing.
“It is important that we address such issues with urgency, for related activities and developments may well hinge upon how many nurses are likely to be available in the next 10, 20 and 30 years. For make no mistake, adequate staffing levels will always be at the heart of securing optimal health for everyone,” the minister said.
He said sufficient numbers of nurses lead to shorter hospital stays and fewer deaths. “Having enough nurses also means decreasing admissions and big savings, for as you know, nurses also have a vital role in preventative health and for improving the quality of life for patients with chronic diseases. Conversely then, too few nurses mean that we lose out on these important benefits – and exponentially, risks to patients increase,” he added.
Among the other speakers at the opening ceremony of the four-day conference were Dr. Rudolph Cummings, programme manager for health sector development at CARICOM and Leila McWhinney-Dehaney, chairman of the Regional Nursing Body.