By Moses Walubiri
KAMPALA - The Uganda Nurses and Midwives Council (UNMC) has called for the immediate phasing out of nursing assistants with UNMC vice chairperson, Sister Stella Josephine, impugning their relevance in light of thousands of unemployed qualified nurses.
Unlike enrolled nurses who under rigorous training in accredited institutions, nursing assistants undergo crush on-job training mainly by senior doctors or principal nursing assistants, with many of them playing an integral role in providing medical care especially in rural health centers.
Nursing assistants are mainly involved in triage (sorting out patients at reception areas) and operation theatres as helping hands.
In an interface with legislators on the Committee on Commissions Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises yesterday, UNMC top echelon accused nursing assistants of “compromising the profession.”
“We feel that nursing assistants shouldn’t be in existence. We have enough qualified unemployed nurses to take their positions. They should either train and become qualified nurses or get phased out” Josephine said in response to a question by Nwoya Woman MP, Lilly Adong, about the place of nursing assistants in the health service structure.
Mercy Muwema, UNMC Quality Assurance Manager had earlier told MPs that out of the 37,555 registered nurses in the country, 10,303 are yet to acquire their practicing licenses.
According to Josephine, the decision of the latter category not to acquire licenses is largely informed by their inability to secure employment in both private and Government hospitals.
Josephine told MPs that government has over the years fostered a policy of training nursing assistants with some of them getting absorbed into the official health care system.
Efforts to get data about the number of nursing assistants in government hospitals proved futile with Director General Health Service, Dr. Ruth Aceng, reportedly out of the country, while Ministry of Health Spokesperson, Rukia Nakamate admitting absence of such data.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have such data at the moment,” she said.
However, Mbarara Municipality MP and member of the Health Committee, Dr. Medard Bitekyerezo, opines that jettisoning nursing assistants “would be a grave mistake,” highlighting the invaluable experience some of them have gained over the years.
“There are some nursing assistants who are far better in practical terms than qualified nurses because of their experience,” Bitekyerezo, a practicing physician said, adding: “not everything is learnt in class.”
The legislator says that the country is better off footing the bill of training nursing assistants instead of laying them off.
“Uganda loses hundreds of nurses and doctors who seek greener pastures elsewhere. Those whom UNMC think are unemployed might be in foreign countries,” Bitekyerezo said.
Established under the Uganda Nurses and Midwives Act, 1996, UNMC is mandated to regulate the standards of nursing and midwifery in the country.
In execution of its mandate, UNMC approves courses of study for nurses and midwives, regulates their conduct, registers those who get qualified and issues renewable licenses for all practicing nurses and midwives in the country.
UNMC was in parliament to answer a host of queries raised in the Auditor General’s report for the financial year 2011/2012.