Shortage of nurses: Experts recommend task shifting

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By Chioma Obinna

With 136,000 registered out of  240,000 qualified nurses and midwives in the country as at August, 2012, experts have raised alarm over shortage of nurses in Nigerian hospitals and called for what they described as “task shifting” in nursing care.

At the 7th Annual Conference of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, the nurses noted that the acute shortfall of nurses proved to be more acute in resource challenged countries like Nigeria. The iHRIS Qualify data from the Nigerian Nursing Councils reveal there are far fewer nurses and midwives available than expected to provide much-needed health services to Nigerians.

Task shifting is a process of delegation whereby tasks are moved appropriately to less specialised health workers to make better use of workforce and ease bottlenecks in the system.

In a key note address at the conference tagged “Nursing: Task shifting and other Strategies in a Resource Challenged Environment”, Professor Boluwaji Fajemilehin, Department of Nursing Science College of Medicine, University of Lagos, recalled that the World Health Organisation, WHO, in 2006, defined 57 countries facing a critical shortage of health workers—those with fewer than 2.3 doctors, nurses, and midwives per 1,000 population. Against that ratio, Nigeria reported a shortage of nearly 40,000 health workers.

“The new data may indicate that Nigeria’s shortage is closer to 144,000—over three times the amount reported in 2006. This would be the seventh highest shortage of the 57 crisis countries.”

He called for a policy frame work that would ensure proper task shifting in nursing and stressed the need for necessary training and retraining that would enable personnel match expectation to engender team work rather than intra-sectoral and in-fighting.

To do this, he recommended that strategies need to be developed, not only for training but also deployment, engagement and retention of health workers to ensure that right cadres and numbers are retained at the level where they can improve health outcomes.

Earlier, the Head of Department, LASUTH Nursing, Mrs. Modupe Shode said task shifting has become inevitable as many workers are leaving they health system and the urgent need to ensure quality healthcare services for the people.

“Task shifting should be encouraged and implemented alongside other efforts to increase the number of skilled health workers because it represents a rational redistribution of tasks, addresses the global inadequate health personnels. “It should not be seen as low quality care for resource challenged countries but rather an approach that can contribute to health services that are accessible equitable and of good quality,” she added.

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