Public health crisis looms as 13,000 nurses retire next year

Nurses during their national conference in Nyeri last October. There are an estimated 22,000 nurses in the public service.

More than 13,000 nurses are due to retire next year, throwing the already understaffed public health sector into a major crisis.

Staff shortages will also be felt across the civil service as workers who have attained 60 years go home.

A similar crisis was shaping up four years ago but, to buy time, the government raised the retirement age from 55 to 60 years. The first of this bunch are expected to retire next year. But Chief Nursing Officer Chris Rakuom wants the retiring nurses retained on contract.

Mr Rakuom says the retirement of such a large number — 60 per cent of the estimated 22,000 nurses in the public sector — is a result of accumulated bad policies. (READ: Health workers issue strike notice)

Speaking to the Nation on Tuesday, Mr Rakuom attributed the crisis to three factors — the retrenchment of public servants through the 1994 and 1996 golden handshake, suspension of new nurses’ engagement in 1998 and the civil service restructuring programme of 2000.

A national survey on the ages of nurses carried out by the Ministry of Health showed that more than 14,000 were aged over 54 in 2007 and hence eligible to retire by next year.

Central Province has the highest number of aged nurses followed by Rift Valley with Nairobi and North Eastern provinces having the youngest population of nurses. The latter also had the least number of nurses in the country.

Most nurses are said to be shifting from the private to public service due to improved terms and conditions of service.

“Internal migration is beginning to occur from the private sector, especially from faith-based health facilities to the public sector,” Mr Rakuom said, citing a Ministry of Health report - “Faith Based Services vis-à-vis the Government Health Services” - which indicates poor salary and job insecurity plus overwork as the main reasons for nurses leaving the health providers.

But this could be complicated further with a Health Bill prepared by the two Health ministries, which proposes that all their workers employed by the Public Service Commission be seconded to county governments, which will be responsible for their recruitment, salaries and pensions.

According to Mr Rakuom, the advent of HIV, new health facilities sponsored by Constituency Development Funds and new facilities put up to serve new districts demanded the recruitment of new nurses.

Some 3,644 nurses were recruited to the public sector between 2005 and 2008, according to a case study on the nursing sector Mr Rakuom had prepared in 2010 for the International Centre for Human Resources in Nursing.

Age distribution

However, he says the age distribution has remained relatively unchanged over the period.

Mr Rakuom says that when nursing jobs were advertised, the qualifications sought seemed to favour the older and more experienced people.

He called for a policy that allows younger nurses to work alongside the older and more experienced colleagues for the smooth transfer of skills otherwise the 13,000 potential retirees could deny the country immense depth of skills.

The chairman of the National Nursing Association of Kenya, Mr Luke Kodambo, describes this as an example of bad policy. “The fact that they are not hiring younger nurses is discriminatory in itself because at the moment we have a surplus of 7,000 younger and jobless nurses.”


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