KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has announced his government will begin bonding locally-trained nurses to work in the country, against the background of a significant number of those health care employees opting to work overseas.
The bonding will begin with nurses currently enrolled at the nation’s training school, Gonsalves said on state radio on Wednesday, but he did not state for how long they would be bonded.
The Prime Minister said he has discussed the issue with the chief personnel officer and Nigel Scott, director of the SVG Community College, of which the Division of Nursing Education is a part.
“We don’t have a bonding program for nurses because we have been producing such a surplus that you could even facilitate some nurses going [overseas to work]. It’s a poverty reduction measure. [It] is to make sure that young people have a noble profession, especially women,” he said.
However, he said after spending significant sums on training and supporting nurses, many of them were taking up employment opportunities overseas.
“I don’t begrudge anybody who wants to go overseas and get an opportunity to work and the like. But, surely, I mean, you can’t just use the system in a way you get a free education for two or three years, or in some cases, four years are near-free; you get $1,000 a month. I pay you to go to school, really, and then immediately when you come out, you get a year on the SET [Support for Education and Training program], for instance – which a SET nurse is $1,500 a month – and then you say you want to get appointed… as a staff nurse, [but] you don’t necessarily have it in your mind to stay to give a few years’ service.
“Shortly after you get appointed as a staff nurse, you jump on a plane and you gone somewhere else,” Gonsalves contended.
Although acknowledging that there is a “great demand, greater than usual” for nurses globally, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vincentian leader insisted that nurses could not turn their back on the government that paid to train them.
“Come on… you can’t tell me well, you do one year or you do two years. You’ve got to give me a little bit more than that, man. That sounds reasonable. I wasn’t encumbering the young people, but the circumstances have now changed,” Prime Minister Gonsalves said.
He rejected the view that nurses were leaving because they have been mandated to take a COVID-19 vaccine here.
“That’s not the case because it’s really the pull of countries outside, including the Caribbean….; places like Tortola, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, Antigua itself, St. Kitts,” Gonsalves said.
“They are good nurses. I love them very much but you got to show some solidarity with me, too — not just me but I mean with the country. You can’t take the view that well, you’re a Vincentian, there’s this program and you get it and then you’re going. So we have to … do a bonding. Remember, this program is hundreds upon hundreds, running into thousands of persons who have trained as nurses and nursing assistants.
“I mean, we spent millions expanding the nursing school, increased the staff, do all sorts of things and we do something for our nursing students here, which people don’t do otherwise in the region,” the Prime Minister added.