The belaboured shortage of local nurses continues to be an issue and Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton reiterated that the situation is not being remedied by scholarships because half of the students sent overseas to study do not return.
In response to a question from Opposition Member and Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser during the 28 June sitting of the House, Hon. Skelton said that the BVI Health Services Authority (BVIHSA) has vacancies for nurses and allied specialists and is constantly forced to recruit persons who are non-belongers or residing outside of the BVI.
While mentioning that the scholarships are not netting the results expected, the Health Minister said: “If you send out ten probably five might come back, but that is the reality of what we are dealing with. So if you have these positions in the Hospital requiring nursing, medical practitioners, allied health practitioners you want to have the service here on the island, you are going have to employ these people from outside to fill these positions.”
He also noted that medical services have not been affected because many practitioners who relocate from elsewhere end up staying with BVIHSA for years: “Quite a number of people, once they get here and they understand the tranquility and the life we live here, a lot of people stay. We have nurses that stayed with us for 25/ 30 years because they like it here. Some people use it as a stepping stone to go for higher opportunities and that is the reality.”
The need to hire more nurses was previously mentioned by former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the BVIHSA, Paula Chester-Cumberbatch during her appearance before the Standing Finance Committee. A number of key and critical medical staff roles remain vacant at Peebles Hospital, and Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith who is a medical doctor by profession expressed concern that despite Government’s training investments these positions remain empty.
Last year while speaking in the House of Assembly, Premier Smith complained that efforts to train medical staff for the BVIHSA were not paying dividends.
Hon. Smith announced that government, through the Ministry of Education, has invested in training Virgin Islanders for the key roles, but he noted that there are still more jobs to fill: “It is true that we have spent a lot of time a lot of energy, a lot of money in education for the people, young people of this Territory, and they have taken advantage of these opportunities,” Hon. Smith told the House.
In stressing the vacancies at the Hospital, Premier Smith told the Legislators: “There is still for example no local medical internist – specialist in internal medicine at the hospital at this time, there is also no local surgeon at the hospital at this time. What I am saying that we have to continue to educate as we have been doing and continue to encourage … So that we would be able to fill the positions that are vacant.”
The Premier also noted that some of the persons return to the Territory but go to work in the private clinics: “Many of the persons who came back trained as doctors went to private practice and that is good because there is a need in that area and so we just had to continue doing what we have to do until all the areas in private and public service would be satisfied,” Hon. Smith explained.