With only one nurse for every 216 South Africans and a large proportion of the nursing population nearing retirement, the shortage of nurses remains a serious problem. Trade union Solidarity said today, on International Nurses Day, that the reopening of nursing colleges should be a priority.
First-world countries like the USA and Australia currently have 980 and 1 090 nurses for every 100 000 residents respectively. South Africa has at most 462 nurses for every 100 000 residents. Because an unknown number of South African nurses don’t work and some work abroad, this figure is, in reality, lower.
The trade union maintains that the closure of the nursing colleges 15 years ago had a negative impact on the standard of healthcare services in South Africa. If the colleges had not been closed down, there may have been considerably more trained nurses today and the ratio of nurses to residents may have been higher. Approximately 231 000 nurses are currently registered with the South African Nursing Council (SANC).
The trade union called on the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, to give feedback on the planned reopening of public nursing colleges. Motsoaledi announced in April this year that 106 nursing colleges will be reopened by June this year. “The reopening of these colleges is crucial for the provision of healthcare services. It is unfortunate that it has taken government this long to rectify the mistake,” Ilze Nieuwoudt, spokesperson for Solidarity, said.
According to figures released by the SANC there is only one registered nurse for every 434 South Africans. Registered nurses must complete a four-year course. “This figure doesn’t provide a complete picture, however,” she said. “According to a study conducted by the Humans Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in 2004, only around 82% of all registered nurses were still practising as nurses, which means that the number of South Africans per registered nurse is even higher.”
Nieuwoudt further emphasised that the aging nursing population in South Africa could worsen the shortage of nurses. Close to 35% of all nurses in South Africa are 50 years or older according to data from 2010. Furthermore, statistics show that only 10% of employees in the nursing profession are younger than 30. This ratio is particularly visible among registered nurses. Approximately 45% are 50 years or older and only 4% are under 30. “Over the past few years the number of nurses in all categories grew faster than the population, but because of the large proportion of nurses who are nearing retirement age, the gap needs to be closed faster.”
* This report was prepared by Solidarity