Nurses blast Government of Jamaica in salary stand-off

The Gleaner’s July 11 article “Nurses Blast Government” highlighting the demonstration orchestrated by members of the very disgruntled Nurses’ Association of Jamaica has led me to rethink why citizens of a democracy delegate authority to politicians. One of the most fundamental responsibilities entrusted to a responsive government is ensuring that there is sufficient provision of health care services. The leadership structure in Jamaica is falling well short of its duty to ensure that this priority is being met and this shortcoming is indicative of other areas of similar poor performances which are stunting our island’s development.

In all fairness, the challenges that Prime Minister Simpson-Miller faces are immense and require sizeable resources and skills that at present, Jamaica seems unable to harness at the present time. Nonetheless, the brewing crisis in the health care sector is one that our nation can conceivably manage. Indeed one cannot disagree with Mrs. Allwood-Anderson that the Prime Minister, as well as key officials in the Ministry of Health must proactively engage with the NAJ and break the prevailing silence.

The beauty and beast of globalisation is the reduced restrictions on movement of labour. It is no secret that larger countries are having considerable success poaching our nurses and the recent developments in the CARICOM suggests that regional integration has the potential to exacerbate these tendencies whereby key personnel will emigrate from poorer to richer islands. The health care sector is too critical for the workers’ concerns to be taken lightly. The NAJ has patiently voiced their apprehension and we are currently faced with a disturbing situation. It has been reported that about fifty health care professionals leave the island each month in search of more promising employment opportunities elsewhere; this is not sustainable. There is already a high risk of burn-out for individuals working in such a high stress profession and as one nurse reported, the present poor nurse-to-patient ratio undeniably compromises the quality of treatment.

It would be difficult, if not infeasible, for Jamaica to match the remuneration that more affluent countries like the U.S. and U.K. can offer to health care professionals; however, the government cannot sit idly by and ignore the problems caused by the ongoing brain drain. No reasonable person can expect nurses to be content with stagnant wages when potentially more lucrative compensation is there to lure them abroad.

Casting the burden on the prime minister for the ongoing debacle is a bit unreasonable; however, the Ministry of Health, ex cathedra, should have been intimately aware of the problems and ought to have devised and advanced sustainable solutions. Irrespective of this, the prime minister can help Jamaicans as well as her own ambitions at election time by respectfully reaching out to the NAJ and finding at least a temporary agreement based on the mutual understanding that a timetable for negotiations toward a more comprehensive solution is in place.

The problems facing Jamaica are so great that we have no time for lollygagging. We must protect the future of Jamaican health care by compensating nurses with the wages more worthy of their professional contributions and that are reasonable enough to attract a suitable pool of potential health care workers in the years to come.