The importance of healthcare sector is second to none, and underpinning it are doctors and nurses. A few years ago when the raging COVID-19 pandemic was killing countless people and sending even more to hospitals, they were hailed as saviours. But the sorry state of affairs these critical manpower, especially nurses, frequently find themselves in deserves discussion. It goes without saying that nurses account for the bulk of the Nepali population emigrating for greener pastures. Today we find a good number of Nepali nurses tending to patients in Australia, Canada, the US, among a vast range of countries. The question is: Why are they leaving the country in droves? Of course the pay is one major pulling factor. But what about the push factors?
Our nurses have been facing two major problems. Those working in big private hospitals toil for as little as Rs. 8,000 in salary – the money that doesn't even cover the bare minimum expenses – while those in government hospitals get relatively good pay but have to attend to overwhelming number of patients, sometimes two or three patients crammed into one bed. In the first case, the pay is not on a par with the qualification; in the second, it's not in line with the workload. So, gruelling work hours and underpay are the factors our nurses are contending with. Compounding the problem is occasional violence that flares when a patient dies in the course of treatment.
The fact that many nursing colleges have closed because of failing to comply with the law that mandates such a college to run its own 100-bed hospital is something the government must take seriously. There is no denying that a nurse requires many basic skills to qualify, and without hands-on training in clinical setting for a certain period of time, mastering them is impossible. Complaints that a nurse administered wrong medicine to a patient or a nurse failed to live up to the ethical standards have been making headlines time and again. In order to keep such untoward incidents at bay, the requirement for a nursing college to have its own hospital seems plausible. But at the same time, falling short in meeting that criteria has closed many colleges or pushed some to the verge of closure is the real issue that deserves intervention.
The guiding principle shouldn't be how to produce more nurses, but it should be how to produce qualified nurses in enough numbers. Those who lack even basic skills as identifying the medical equipment mustn't join the workforce. And there must be laws in place to deter such malpractices. If preventing such shortcomings demands amendment to prevailing laws, the government must embrace the option. Many of the prospective students are increasingly going abroad for nursing study. Had there been enough colleges at home, they wouldn't opt for costly education abroad. This is crucial even to prevent the flight of much-needed foreign cash from the country. Retaining nurses is paramount. To make that happen, the government should work to increase their pay as well as perks. Ensuring safe and secure working environment is equally important. We no longer can afford to lose them.