By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK Delicate as the nursing profession might be, those entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding life cannot perform to their optimum if the working conditions are not fulfilling. Fifteen years after the country’s independence, the working conditions of nurses are still unendurable. Sharing her experiences with New Era, a nurse who spoke on condition of anonymity indicated that in as much as one would want to render their services in this field, the current state of affairs in terms of incentives was not encouraging. According to the nurse, who used to work in the public health sector and has since moved to the private sector, nurses in the past who joined the field automatically got promotion from a junior to a senior position within five years of practicing. This has changed as junior nurses only wait for salary increases that in any case are never guaranteed. She stated that nurses depend on the adjustments made on their salaries at every beginning of the year. “This is also not something, it’s less than N$200 and other than that, nurses have to work overtime to get extra money,” stated the source. A junior nurse gets about N$7 000 while a senior nurse gets about N$10 000. On overtime, senior nurses score about N$120 per hour while juniors get about N$80. “Most nurses are overworked due to overtime – they are demoralised. Sometimes the equipments are not working. You want to take blood pressure count but you find that the equipment is not working. All these things are frustrating to nurses,” said the nurse. Moreover, “people think we move to private hospitals because of money. There is more to a job than a salary,” New Era learnt. Members of the public have for years complained of being ill-treated by nurses but according to the source, there are many factors that lead to nurses displaying a negative attitude. According to her, nurses in the country have no chance of advancing their studies for they are rarely granted study leave. “When they allow you, then you do it under strenuous conditions. They forget that even if you are a nurse, the world is advancing and hence the need to advance procedures.” These problems are general to nurses in the country though those in rural areas seem to be worse off. Based on the recent report submitted by the National Council Standing Committee on Regional Development after its visit to the northern regions in August to September, the conditions of nurses or health practitioners in these regions are sub-standard. The report gives an example of Impalila in the Caprivi Region. The hospital, just like in most areas visited, does not have the capacity to render quality services for various reasons. There is lack of accommodation for health personnel, and poor road infrastructure that makes it difficult for patients to access vital services. Lack of accommodation for nurses, incentives, and pressure coming from the workload are other factors that contribute to the nurses’ misery in their daily field of work. The same situation is evident in the Ohangwena region, where accommodation for health workers is inadequate. Scarcity of transport, including ambulance vehicles to transport patients to the hospitals, is a challenge among others. The report reveals that “the hospital personnel outlines difficulties facing the hospitals such as insufficient medical staff, scarcity of transport in some areas, accommodation, shortage of medicine in some areas and delaying of issuing of work permits for expatriates.” Some hospitals such as Outjo State hospital are in a dilapidated state. The mortuary is reported to be in poor condition. Such challenges have contributed to nurses leaving their jobs, as the conditions under which they operate are not conducive. With all these observations, the committee recommended that special remuneration packages be defined for health personnel working in remote areas. Decent and free housing was another incentive that was identified and recommended. In general, working conditions for health personnel must be revised to lighten the burden that people in this profession face. Commenting on the matter, Minister of Health and Social Services Richard Kamwi said some of the challenges identified in the report do not hold water. On accommodation for nurses, the minister indicated that every clinic that has been built by the Swapo government has a nurses’ home. Last year, the ministry made a submission to Cabinet to ensure that no clinic is put up without accommodation and that no clinic gets less than three nurses. However, this can only be realised if the problem of nurse shortage is addressed. The ministry already contacted higher learning institutions such as the University of Namibia to increase their intake for nurses. This problem will hopefully be sorted out only early next year, he said. As for clinics that might have hanging ceilings such as Outjo clinic, the minister says the funds are there but that responsibility lies with the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication. “We as a ministry budget for clinics and homes for nurses but the construction lies with the Ministry of Works and this is where we have a problem. The funds are there but the long bureaucracy related to tenders…” Kamwi described the salary complaints by some nurses as an unfounded claim. He added that the Namibian health personnel are the highest paid in the Southern African region, seconded by South Africa. However, in the New Year, major improvements are expected in most areas.
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