BULAWAYO City Council clinics are now largely manned by locum nurses – inexperienced nurses hired on a temporary basis – as the local authority struggles to fill vacant posts after the resignation of experienced medical professionals.
Council has not been spared the mass resignation of health workers, many of whom have been leaving the country particularly to the United Kingdom after that country relaxed visa regimes for medical personnel.
Government hospitals have been hard hit by resignations, resulting in the Health ministry introducing a number of measures such as withholding their certificates of good standing which are required when searching for work abroad.
The Nurses and Midwives’ Council of Zimbabwe (NMCZ) has said nurses who intend to leave the country must also satisfy all statutory requirements, including mandatory bonding, after the institution was flooded with requests for the clearance certificates.
In Bulawayo, council clinics were already reportedly operating at less than 50% nurse staffing capacity. The mass resignations have left the health centres worse off, according to confidential council minutes of the health department.
“STAFF SITUATION AT CLINICS: – The Director of Health Services (Edwin Sibanda) reported (January, 6, 2022) that there was a critical shortage of nursing staff at the clinics. Nurses had continued to resign monthly with 45 nurses having been lost through natural attrition (resigned, retired or died). Clinics had continued to utilise locum staff that had less experience,” the report reads.
Dr Sibanda on Wednesday confirmed the nurses’ exodus.
“It is critical, but I do not have the figures offhand,” he said when contacted.
In May 2021, the Local Government ministry approved a council request to fill as many as 400 vacant posts, including nursing slots, but indications are that this has done little to stabilise the staffing requirements.
Bulawayo deputy mayor Mlandu Ncube confirmed that there is a staffing level concern as nurses search for greener pastures.
In 2010, the government through section 313 of the Urban Councils Act declared that no local authority may employ any staff members at any level or grade, including casual or contract workers, without written permission from the minister.
The local authority has also attributed the failure to attend to service delivery issues such as sewer and water pipe bursts on staff shortages.
This comes amid claims that council clinics are operating with a nurse staffing establishment of the 1970s when there was no HIV or tuberculosis (TB) burden to deal with, a situation now compromising the delivery of health services.
In government, the Health and Child Care ministry has been introducing tough measures to stop health workers from going on strike demanding better salaries under new proposed amendments to the Health Services Act.
Under the changes, worker representatives who face charges of inciting nurses and doctors to embark on strike action deemed illegal could be jailed for three years in what the authorities argue is necessary to instil discipline in the health sector.
In 2018, Health and Child Care minister Constantino Chiwenga, who is also Vice-President, made news after he took the unusual step of expelling 16 000 striking nurses, vowing to replace them with newly-trained and retired nurses.
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