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BUDGET DEBATE: Nurses’ training, suicide prevention efforts criticised

APNU parliamentarian Dr. George Norton

APNU shadow health minister Dr. George Norton says the training of nurses locally has been described as a “serious chronic disease.”

Norton’s remarks were made during Wednesday’s budget debate in the National Assembly.

$369M budgeted for human resources development including nurses. According to him, the results of the recent nursing exams at the three nursing schools show a serious deficiency in their training.

“Of the 255 students who entered the three-year professional nursing programme in 2010 only 120 wrote the final exam and of that only 19 were successful.”

Dr. Norton said the problems had been pointed out since 2012 with little move to rectify them. He suggested that the batch sizes be reduced to make the classes more manageable; a more acceptable student to tutor ratio; modern equipment and texts; and adequate infrastructure.

The APNU MP also called for a counseling and welfare services to be available to address issues of discipline.

“The School of Nursing personnel should have some input in the selection of students for the programme as some of these students are found by the tutors to be totally unsuitable for training to become a nurse,” he added.

Dr. Norton said the focus should be on quality and not quantity. He also took the government to task on the issue of suicide stating that the phenomenon was now a serious public health issue and needed more dynamic intervention from the administration.

He called for a reduction in the number of students in the batches and sufficient staff to run the courses, modern aids and current text books along with adequate infrastructure at the schools.

Dr. Norton added that the nursing school personnel should also be allowed to decide who can be trained to become a nurse with aim being quality and not quantity. He also called for better salaries and benefits for nurses in order to stem their outward migration.

The APNU MP also decried the attention from government on suicide saying it was a public health crisis. According to Dr. Norton, Guyana is ranked fourth in suicide per capita in the world and first in South America and the Caribbean. Some 111 suicides were recorded last year with 23 recorded so far this year Dr. Norton said.

“The New Amsterdam Hospital (Region Six) alone recorded 114 cases of attempted suicides and of these 10 died while the Suddie Hospital (Region Two) shows that 117 persons attempted suicide with 16 dying.”

Dr. Norton said studies done by the American University of Research show that the majority of those committing suicide were males between the ages 12 and 20 years, who were likely to be poorly educated and employed in a low-income occupation.

He added that studies show that the majority of suicide victims are young males between the ages of 12 and 20 years. He called for the urgent amendment of the Mental Health Act saying it would readily receive opposition support. Additionally, Dr. Norton called for more specialists to be trained in psychiatry and psychology.

Speaking immediately after the APNU member was Health Minister Dr. Bheri Ramsaran who said efforts were underway to alleviate the issues at the nursing school. He stated that in addition to increased numbers they had also introduced night classes and expanded the physical structure of the Georgetown School of Nursing.

“There are six different papers that the nurses have to write. The failure rate that has been touted by the goodly doctor indicates that some might have failed not all, there’s a small portion who might have passed all but there might be a larger portion who might have passed not all. But what they are not telling you is that the system allows three resits,” Dr. Ramsaran.

On the issue of suicide the health minister said there appeared to be a “misguided perception” that the issue fell under the purview of his ministry.  The minister said they see depression as one of the underlying causes of suicide but there were other social factors and it is recognised that mental health needs to be placed on the front burner.

“The Ministry of Health conducted earlier in this year what it said would be a continuing education campaign, whereby some 150 operatives … a session for those people to deal with the wider society on depression,” Dr. Ramsaran said. The participants were drawn from various sectors in society he noted and added that they believed it needed a multi-sectoral approach.

Dr. Ramsaran said a smaller session had also been done at the New Amsterdam Hospital.

Dr. Norton had also criticised the upkeep of the National Psychiatric Hospital which he said was being under-resourced. According to him, he was told that nurses had been given “begging sheets” to seek donations on the streets of New Amsterdam to help out in the running of the hospital.

Some $21.5B has been earmarked for the health sector in this year’s budget.