On the 12th of May, the world came together to celebrate International Nurses’ Day, responding appropriately to the theme ‘Respect, Support, and Appreciate Them’. Such a positive response is fitting, firstly for their professional care of the sick and vulnerable among us, and because of the heavy sacrifice nurses have offered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the same time as we celebrate them, we must acknowledge the pronounced fault lines in the health of the nursing profession that have been highlighted during the past two weeks. For instance, the long-standing nurse shortages in South Africa and indeed, across the globe. These shortages placed an even heavier burden on practising nurses during the pandemic – a burden that has been exacerbated by longer-term frustrations with deteriorating working conditions. Those frustrations have been extensively studied and described over decades, in journals, newspapers, and conferences. The crisis in nursing has been building significantly since the consolidation of nursing colleges in the 1980s and 1990s. In the aftermath of this consolidation, South Africa saw a progressive build-up of a nurse supply gap that evolved in the face of a similarly progressive demand for services from a growing population and a worsening burden of disease over the last two decades. The result is that many nurses have long been vulnerable, but particularly more so now in light of the pandemic, to mental health and wellness issues.
We can no longer turn from addressing the challenges nurses face, including the worsening shortage of nurses.
The transition to new nursing qualifications over the past seven years has interrupted the training of nurses. Therefore, not nearly enough numbers are qualifying because of restrictions and implementation delays. The result is we have an ageing nurse workforce with insufficient numbers of new nurses coming through the training platforms. The long-term prognosis is even fewer nurses with specialist training. Given this situation, the recent omission of nurses from the 2022 critical skills list was a strange and surprising development that sends the wrong message about the country’s nursing resources as it creates the impression that nurses are not a scarce skill. This is wrong and should be corrected without delay.
HASA members have for many years trained nursing professionals. They remain available and eager to help address the nurse shortage that one recent study has estimated at 26 000 as of 2020, across all categories, projecting to 141 000 by 2030. Private hospital groups are therefore also taking up the challenge already highlighted under Pillar 4 of the Presidential Health Compact as a major area for training collaboration between the public and private sector. However, the willingness of HASA group member private nursing colleges requires the reciprocal embrace of the various bodies regulating the nursing profession, and the various provincial Departments of Health. Fully utilising the considerable unused nurse training capacity within the private hospital sector can significantly help to address our national challenge.
To assert that the nursing shortage is resolved simply by employing nurses without jobs into previously unfunded posts is to mistakenly underestimate the extent of the crisis we face, especially in specialised nurse categories.
With International Nurses’ Day and the many issues raised afresh during the last week uppermost in our minds, HASA appeals for a turning of the corner. Now is the time to address South Africa’s nursing crisis. We must not look away again. HASA, therefore, urges all stakeholders to come together to remove those remaining barriers to avert a national health catastrophe.
Andre Joseph, Chairman
Dr. Dumisani Bomela, Chief Executive Officer