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Talking Health

Participants in the 38th Annual General Meeting of the Regional Nursing Body with (seated from left) Health Ministry Chief Officer Jennifer Ahern; Health Minister, Hon Mark Scotland, JP and RNB Chairperson Dr. Leila McWhinney-Dehaney.

While health information systems topped the list of discussion topics addressed by delegates attending the 9-12 August 38th Annual General Meeting of the Regional Nursing Body (RNB), another pressing topic also took centre stage - retention.

Quoting a World Bank report, Health Minister, the Hon. Mark Scotland, JP said that only 25 percent of nurses in the English-speaking Caribbean work in their own countries. Most have migrated to first-world countries, where working and living conditions are significantly better.

"One of the most worrying trends concerns the continuing worldwide shortage of nurses," he said. "It is important that we address such issues with urgency, for related activities and developments may well hinge upon how many nurses are likely to be available over the next three decades."

Hoping to address the local situation, Minister Scotland stated that steps were already being taken to introduce a bachelor's degree in nursing at the University College of the Cayman Islands (UCCI). To that end, discussions are currently underway with the Health Services Authority, Education Ministry and UCCI.

Chairperson for the RNB and Chief Nursing Officer for Jamaica, Dr. Leila McWhinney-Dehaney explained that the membership would be looking at ideas to convince Caribbean governments to implement retention strategies.

"For example," she said, "incentives such as improved working conditions, better salaries, and friendly, comfortable practice environments would bring out the best in our professionals.

"Access to training for specialist nursing positions like critical care and nephrology, as well as bachelor and master's degree programmes are all benefits which - if packaged properly - will help convince our nurses to opt for employment at home."

Complementing these ideas, Cayman Islands Chief Nursing Officer Hazel Brown said steps are already being taken regionally to implement at least one such incentive.

She said the assembly would be looking specifically at nursing education and regional progress to introduce bachelor-level programmes. She added that the nursing curriculum would be reviewed and discussions continued with the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), which now has responsibility for the regional nursing registration exams.

The Regional Nursing Body was conceptualized in 1959 and inaugurated in 1972 within the Caribbean Community Secretariat. It comprises all chief nursing officers of CARICOM member states.

The body's purpose is to update and advise health ministries on matters relating to health and nursing, and to improve areas of nursing education and service within the Caribbean. It has been an important regional force in advancing education, practice, research and policy agenda, relative to nursing and midwifery.

The RNB was also the driving force behind CARICOM's Council for Human and Social Development's (COHSOD) decision to have all regional nursing schools convert to bachelor degrees as the entry-level requirement for nursing.

Meeting delegates hailed from Antigua, Barbados, Belize, Haiti, Jamaica, Surinam, St. Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. Dr. Rudolph Cummins represented the CARICOM Secretariat, while local representatives from the Cayman Islands Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Cayman Islands Nursing Association also attended.

(GIS)

For further information contact: Kenisha Morgan