KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) – Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has defended St Vincent and the Grenadines government’s decision to bond locally trained nurses, insisting that it does not contradict an earlier statement that the government had been training nurses for export.
“No, the bonding is not in contradiction of that because at the time, persons didn’t listen to what I say, that we are producing more than enough for ourselves and to export. And that has been the case since 2002,” he said.
Last week, Prime Minister Gonsalves, speaking on the state-owned NBC radio, said that the bond would begin with the current cohorts of nursing students.
He told another radio station that people who received national scholarships and bursaries are bonded, but it did not apply to nurses, who are also trained at the expense of the state.
“It’s only our nurses because we used to produce so many, and the demand had not grown as great. But now that the demand is very great, we have to give consideration to bonding them.”
He said that local nurses are migrating because of the high demand for nurses, particularly in Britain, and in the United States.
“We need to keep some for ourselves,” Gonsalves said, adding that the country has had an excess of nurses because it was training more than it needed, and even facilitated arrangements for them to work overseas.
“But now, there’s a significant flight because of the demands, through COVID, in Britain, especially, but also the US. We will have to do some temporary corrective in that regard,” Gonsalves said, adding that he had spoken to the chief personnel officer and also the director of the Community College in this regard.
“Because remember those students, we’re giving them practically a free education and also paying them EC$1,000 a month while going to school.
“I don’t think that they can complain if they have to do a few years before the time they consider to leave. I noticed when I made that announcement that some persons, for political reasons, pounced on me and attacked me. I don’t know — people attack you for anything,” he said.
Gonsalves said there was “a huge shortage of nurses” when his government came to office in March 2001, resulting in the recruitment of 20 nurses from Cuba for two years.
He said the government began training100 nurses annually giving them a free education and a monthly stipend.
“There are people who oppose me doing that, you know,” Gonsalves said, adding “but I knew what we were doing, it’s a poverty-reduction measure, poor people children, children of the poor, the working people, the farmers, could get an education nursing because it’s an expensive programme; it’s the most expensive programme of the programmes which are done locally.”
He said the programme continued without any bonding of the nurses.
“I didn’t see the sense in bonding the nurses because we were producing more than enough in terms of the supply and demand. In fact, there are some nurses who are qualified, couldn’t get jobs because they weren’t yet going overseas.”
Gonsalves said that at that time, the British market was only accepting nurses with full degrees and not those with associate degrees or regional certification.
“Then they changed that as the demand became greater,” he said, adding that the UK market began accepting graduates from the local nursing school and those with regional certification.
“And in order to move the way in which countries are moving all over the world towards the degrees, we move towards the degrees,” the prime minister said, adding that nursing degrees are being offered locally through the University of the West Indies.
Prime Minister Gonsalves said that just before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the authorities here had noticed an increase in the migration of nurses.
“In fact, I don’t know if you noticed we had stopped for a few years doing the associate degree nursing programme. We’re starting back because we had to make up time because of a growing shortage because of the numbers who are going and then that has accelerated since COVID because the British, they have a serious shortage, United States, too.”
He said that individual nurses were seeing jobs overseas and then recruiting their friends, while others were recruited through agencies.
“So, the circumstances have altered. And, therefore, you have to make sure that if you are given a free nursing education or almost a free nursing education, we’re paying $1,000 a month to them — to the nursing students, surely you should get a few years back.
“There’s not a contradiction. It’s the application of the same principle in a different situation,” Gonsalves said.