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Life Healthcare highlights urgent nursing-training needs

As the world celebrates International Nurses’ Day, leading global healthcare provider Life Healthcare has acknowledged the invaluable contributions of nurses to society, but with a firm warning: unless more nurses are trained to address South Africa’s critical nursing shortage, the country is headed for a health catastrophe.

This year’s global International Council of Nurses (ICN) theme "Our Nurses, Our Future," focuses on the crucial importance of nurturing and investing in our nurses as well as the nursing profession – something Life Healthcare is passionate about.

“There is a scarcity of specialised skills, for several reasons,” says Merle Victor, Chief Nurse Officer at Life Healthcare. “One of them is that not enough training opportunities have been made available. That is a serious problem for our country, considering our burden of disease. Additionally, to ensure our patients get adequate care, we need specialist nurses with the appropriate knowledge, skills and competence.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) State of the world’s nursing 2020 report  encouraged governments and stakeholders to invest in nursing education to meet domestic demand, and to respond to changing technologies and models of integrated health and social care.

South Africa is currently experiencing a severe shortage of skilled nurses, impacting the quality and accessibility of healthcare services across the nation. Recognising this challenge, Life Healthcare reaffirms its commitment to investing in the training and development of nurses and ensuring a sustainable pipeline of nursing professionals for the future. However, the organisation cannot achieve this without the support of regulators.

South Africa has just one nurse per 213 people. Of these, less than a third are under the age of 40, and within 15 years, 47% of all nurses will have retired. The current nursing shortage has been estimated at more than 26 000 professionals, but this number is expected to reach more than 100 000 by 2030.

Life Healthcare Group Chief Executive Peter Wharton-Hood has expressed concern that Life Healthcare has the capacity to train up to 3 000 nurses per annum, which would help address the shortfall, but is currently only accredited to train 800.

“Today’s investment in these critical skills does not stack up against the growth of our population,” he says. “If no immediate action is taken, and we cannot develop a sustainable pipeline of nursing talent, the problem is going to get worse. Nurses are the backbone of any healthcare system, and we are being denied the opportunity to invest in adequately developing the next generation of nurses.”

The experience of Khosi Mbekeni a first-year nursing student at Life Healthcare’s nursing college emphasises the importance of quality nursing training.

"Getting the chance to affect a patient’s life is such a big privilege,” she says. “To be able to leave such a mark, to improve the quality of their life by providing care, has definitely been a highlight of my nursing career so far.”

Nursing has long been considered a career for women, but there is a growing trend of men entering the profession. Registered nurse,  Mbulelo Nqandela at Life Wilgeheuwel Hospital’s emergency unit says nursing is an extremely physical job, but, ultimately, it is humanity that makes a good nurse.

“Caring, dedication, transparency, and humanity, I know I’m repeating myself, but you have to be a human being before everything else, you need to care, you need to be empathetic as well, what if it is you in that bed, what if it is your family member? What if it is your friend or partner, how would you like to be treated?”

He says there are misconceptions that come with being a male nurse in a female-dominated environment.

“They think that a man is strong psychologically at all times, emotions don’t get to you, which is not true, because at times there are tragic things that are happening you know, and you are still human, still feel it,” he says.

Victor emphasises the significance of International Nurses’ Day in the context of a strained and often underappreciated profession. She has a message of gratitude for nurses across the country.

"There is a reason why you are doing what you are doing, there is nothing like being present when a baby is born, and you are part of that experience, and you are there when you close the eyes of a dying patient. Providing care is part of a patient’s life journey and you are at the centre of it. You mean so much to us and you mean so much to your community and you mean so much to society. You are our future. We thank you for your service."

Life Healthcare remains committed to supporting its nurses throughout their careers and to increasing its capacity for training nurses to address the country’s urgent health needs.

“By working together with government, we believe it is possible to create a sustainable solution to the nursing shortage, ensuring access to quality healthcare services,” says Wharton-Hood.

To learn about studying nursing in South Africa read our fact sheet here.

Find more information on Life Healthcare’s nursing college here.