Brain drain cripples service delivery in Bulawayo hospitals




Professor Solwayo Ngwenya

UNITED Bulawayo Hospitals (UBH) and Mpilo Central Hospital have lost more than 300 health workers since the beginning of the year, which has severely affected the effective healthcare delivery at a time when the country is also grappling with Covid-19.

Most of these healthcare workers are reportedly trekking to the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, which recently embarked on a massive recruitment in the face of Covid-19 pandemic.

The resignations come at a time when Government has shown commitment to improve the welfare of its workers through improved salaries and a slew of non-cash incentives.

UBH and Mpilo Central Hospital are the two major referral hospitals serving patients from the southern region which includes Bulawayo, Midlands, Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South provinces.

The country’s health sector has over the past few years been hit by staff exodus including the movement of nurses, doctors, pharmacists among others to other countries.

Since January this year UBH lost 161 nurses, 14 doctors, four pharmacists and 10 laboratory technicians and scientists. At Mpilo Central Hospital, 133 nurses and 15 doctors left the institution while 15 other health staff also resigned during the course of the year.

The latest development comes at a time when Bulawayo City Council (BCC) run clinics have also been hit hard by the exodus of nurses, further crippling the city’s health delivery system, which was already operating at 60 percent capacity.

BCC runs 19 clinics and they are operating with staffing levels of between 49 and 61 percent. Council requires a staff complement of 186 nurses to operate at full capacity, but is left with just 87 nurses following resignations.

Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya painted a gloomy picture on staffing levels, saying since January, the hospital has been receiving shocking monthly resignations, mostly from nurses.

“The number of resignations that have rocked our hospital has never been seen before and it’s quite shocking. We lost 163 health workers at Mpilo, which is a massive loss and mind you we are talking of highly skilled people,” he said.

“It took several years to train these health personnel and therefore losing them just like that is indeed a sad development.”

Prof Ngwenya said in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, health delivery service has been tremendously affected.

“This is affecting our health service delivery because we now have a huge shortage of health workers, which is compromising our services. There is need for Government to chip in and address this challenge, particularly given that we are in the Covid-19 era,” he said.

Prof Ngwenya said prior to the resignations, they operated with a staff complement of 803 nurses and 230 doctors.

UBH acting chief executive officer Dr Harrison Rambanapasi said shortage of nurses and doctors is compromising the quality of health care as patients cannot be attended to on time.

He said the institution will find it difficult to replace the experience of the nurses and doctors who resigned.

“We lost 161 nurses, 14 doctors, four pharmacists, five laboratory scientists and five laboratory technicians since the beginning of the year. Most of these health workers got offers in countries such as UK, Australia and the United States among other countries,” said Dr Rambanapasi.

Dr Paulinus Sikosana

He said the impact will be felt in the long run. According to the Health Services Board (HSB), as at November 30 this year, a total of 2 246 health care professionals had left the service, more than double the number that left in 2020 which stood at 993.

In 2019 and 2018 a total of 767 and 756 employees left the sector respectively. This has been impacted by the Covid-19 which has increased demand for healthcare workers across the globe.

Speaking during a recent strategic planning and review in Victoria Falls, HSB executive chairman Dr Paulinus Sikosana said the health sector remains dynamic and needs tailor made solutions to counter the impact of such challenges.

He said this year there has seen an unprecedented staff attrition from the health service, particularly from such categories as nurses, doctors, pharmacists and other staff categories who were being actively recruited by agencies from developed countries and some setting their sights at neighbouring countries.

By June 2021, the health service had lost more than twice the number of nurses that left the service in the whole of 2020.”

Dr Sikosana said while disparities between staff establishments at local level against those at national level remained, the magnitude of such discrepancies had been narrowed down to a few provinces.

He said the shortage of critical skills still persisted in the sector despite invitations for retired nurses to re-join the service as the sector is generally perceived to be unattractive, especially by skilled and experienced staff.

Government has already embarked on a deliberate plan to improve the lives and conditions of services for health care workers through the provision of non-monetary benefits among others.

The move is expected to reduce the rate at which skilled staff is leaving service.

HSB is already working towards refining its strategy for the period 2021-2023 in line with national priority areas defined in the National Development Strategy-1 (NDS1) with particular focus on making inputs towards human capital development and the health and well-being of Zimbabweans. – Chronicle