How can we help our underpaid, overworked and abused nurses?
BAGHDAD, Feb. 20 (AKnews) – Despite being considered the backbone of healthcare an increasing number of nurses across the capital are suffering under the pressures of low numbers, low salaries and abuse and humiliation from patients and doctors.
Hardly surprising that Iraq is currently experiencing a short-fall in nursing staff. In response the government has recently approved plans to bring 1,000 competent nurses, as well as 150 doctors and anesthesiologists, from India and Bangladesh at a cost of $16.7m per year.
The Council of Ministers had even approved moves to allow science graduates (of Biology, Chemistry or Physics) will be able to work as nurses after undergoing training for a mere six months.
But this was rejected by the Health and Environment Committee in the Council of Representatives, who objected to hundreds of graduates from institutes and colleges of nursing missing out on jobs.
Iraq will continue to struggle to recruit nurses when their working conditions are so dire.
Wafa Abdul, a nurse and official at al-Yarmouk Teaching Hospital believes the predicament of female nurses, who comprise up to 23% of nursing staff, is worse than ever due to a lack of support and backing of any party against ill-treatment by patients and even doctors.
“Nurses are suffering from great pressures due to a lack of nursing staff, thus they are working overtime without additional payments or extra privileges,” she said. Wafa has been working a nurse since 1977 but has never received any salary privileges.
“The Women's Medical Department has only three nurses and each nurse oversees 18 patients when it should only be six.”
In addition to being overworked and underpaid - in fact, nursing is one of the lowest paid professions in the country - nurses often come under threat from verbal and physical abuse from patients, their families and even doctors.
Past reports have quoted nurses revealing terrible incidents of violence, including being punched, beaten and having glass broken over their head. Some have spoken of being reduced to tears from the stress of their workloads and conditions.
Wafaa also criticizes the decision taken by health authorities to try and appoint graduates of medical sciences as intern nurses because that have only received theoretical training, which has nothing to do with the actual work and have no right to treat patients.
Dr. Rafed al-Khuzaie is a professor of internal medicine at Mustansiriya University College and the supervisor of Graduate Studies at Yarmouk Hospital. He says that the now common low regard of nurses was not always the case.
"The job of nursing in Iraq began through missionary movements of Christ. The first nurses in the twenties of the last century graduated from the French consignment in Baghdad and they were at high level of honor and they were well-dressed," Khuzaie explains.
"But as the deterioration of situation after the 1958 Revolution and the economic boom in 1975, nurses suffered from many social pressures. The worst was having to work at night in hospitals."
In the past, the substantial shortfall in nursing numbers during the Iranian-Iraqi war was remedied by making a year of nursing service compulsory for all graduates, who would also receive tempting concessions.
Doctor Ahmed Baghdadi called for the importance of lifting injustice from nurses and highlighted the need to hold religious, popular and media campaigns in order to educate the community about their important roles.
“There is also a need to increase the nurses’ allocations, to give them privileges for staying in the hospital and grant them social protection through strict legal decisions,” he said.
“The best solution for the problem is a resolution to allocate a part of the state budget to jobs for women who work in state agencies, in particular, the nursing profession, being one of the most important medical professions today after doctors.”
By Afrah Shawqi