Johannesburg - The nursing sector is in line for an overdue shake-up. Almost two years ago, the national Department of Health convened a nursing summit to address nursing challenges in the country.
From that summit, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi then appointed an eight-member ministerial task team to develop a plan of action to address education and practice issues in the profession.
On Monday, the minister launched the National Strategic Plan for Nurse Education, Training and Practice for 2012/13 - 2016/17.
The plan aims to revitalise the ailing sector, which has in the recent past been beleaguered by issues such as lack of resources, staff shortages, fly-by-night institutions, inconsistent staff-patient ratios, lack of equipment, workplace violence and shortages in medication.
“The nursing services are the heartbeat of primary health care… it might be easy to forget that the nursing fraternity helped achieve something we couldn’t have in three years - (increasing) life expectancy (from 56 to 60 years).
“People may wonder what it has to do with nursing, but in terms of expanding HIV programmes, we couldn’t have done it without nurses,” Motsoaledi said at the launch in Boksburg on Monday.
The minister said while nursing and midwifery were critical in working against the country’s burden of disease, there were critical staff shortages in both fields.
According to the plan, which was published last week, one of the strongest and most urgent recommendations is the need for nursing colleges to be declared higher education institutions in compliance with the provisions of the Higher Education Act (as amended in 2008).
“This will help to address provincial inequalities, norms and standards, quality, decrease fragmentation, eliminate fly-by-night nursing education institutions (NEIs), improve clinical training and enhance social accountability,” the document reads.
“Nursing students should have the status of full students (rather than employees) while undergoing training. They should receive funding support paid monthly for tuition books and study materials, as well as living costs, medical aid and indemnity insurance, while tuition fees should be paid directly to the NEIs”.
The plan also addresses the need to emphasise modules that focus on caring, and these should be compulsory at all levels of nursing and midwifery. This should help address the issue of compassion in the profession.
Also addressed by the plan is the phasing out of uniform allowances over a three-year period. The allowances will be replaced with the direct provision of contemporary white uniforms to nurses.
It also significantly proposes that an office for the chief nursing officer be established, which will then take responsibility for the implementation of the strategy over the next five years.
While the strategy was largely welcomed by nursing practitioners attending the launch, with some saying yesterday was “a day to celebrate for nurses”, there were still concerns surrounding the selection criteria for nurses’ training, particularly with regard to the cut-off age for those enrolling as student nurses.