While COVID-19 cases continue to soar in this fourth wave with an average of 470 new infections daily, president of the National Nursing Association Idi Stuart says over 100 nurses have left their jobs in search of greener pastures abroad.
Stuart, who also heads the Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association said even though the Ministry of Health increased the number of ICU beds from 50 to 100, there was a severe shortage of specialized nurses to manage these ICU beds.
“We are facing a mass shortage of nursing personnel. We already had a significant shortage of about 1,000 nurses as stated in the last manpower audit done by the Ministry. Now since COVID, we have had additional facilities, the Couva Multi Training, Roxborough Hospital, Point Fortin Hospital, Arima Hospital and Sangre Grande which require staff,” Stuart said.
Painting a grim picture of the nursing crisis, Stuart said nurses stationed at the parallel health care institutions were inexperienced and unable to give quality patient care. The skilled nurses, he said, were leaving in droves.
“There are too many inexperienced nurses in the parallel health care system. You want experienced people in these facilities but there is nowhere for additional nurses to come. Cuban nurses were brought in to assist with ICU care but in most cases, ICU patients are being cared for by general nurses,” Stuart said.
He explained that most of the nurses working in parallel health care had graduated only last year and their first day on the job was at a COVID-19 facility.
Stuart said registered nurses and licensed midwives were in high demand internationally in England, the United States, Canada and the Bahamas.
A skilled registered nurse in T&T works for $7,500 but a basic nursing employment offer in England is over TT$22,000 with perks, Stuart said.
“The government continues to hire an average of 100 nurses per year, but we continue to lose our skilled nurses due to migration and through retirement. A number of nurses also have opted to do medicine or pharmacy because it makes more sense for them financially to do that,” Stuart added.
He noted that the mandatory patient-staff ratio in T&T was not in accordance with international standards.
“Internationally on medical wards it is one nurse to four patients but here we may have one nurse to twenty-something patients, that is normal in Trinidad,” Stuart said.
He explained that the only way to solve the dilemma was to reduce the number of admissions to the hospital by increasing vaccinations.
“Nursing personnel and the hospital management could manage a certain number of patients being admitted but currently, the number of people being admitted is unmanageable, untenable, unsustainable. As it stands, no one will end up getting quality care,” he noted.
He said his Association has made recommendations to the Ministry of Health to retain nursing staff by paying overtime, allowing staff vacation time and increasing the salary of frontline COVID-19 nurses.
He noted that working in a COVID-facility is an added burden as staff often spent up to 10 hours in hot zones wearing PPE, unable to breathe or urinate and exposing themselves to greater risk.
When asked about the nursing shortages, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh also agreed with Stuart.
“What we need is more people being vaccinated,” Deyalsingh said.
The population of registered nurses and licensed midwives is about 6,000. However, there is an international demand for skilled medical workers, globally.