Two thousand nurses from around the country have converged on the Sandton Convention Centre this week for South Africa’s first ever Nursing Summit.
Opening the three-day summit yesterday (TUES) morning, Zuma paid tribute to the three nursing icons calling on nurses to remind themselves of the noble origins of their profession: “We should draw strength, hope and courage from the memory of these three inspirational women.”
Zuma recalled the importance of nurses during the struggle. “Nurses were never mugged by thugs and they were exempted from any harm because they were known to render an essential service. Nursing needs to be brought back to this status,” he said.
Zuma said the health of the nation was in the hands of the nurses and that the summit was a moment of renewal for the profession. “You are the backbone of our hospitals and clinics and the engine of our health care system. Citizens should not be treated as if they are a burden or a nuisance by staff employed to serve them. The era of rude, uncaring and impatient civil servants or nurses must be a thing of the past as we build a caring government and caring society,” he said.
Zuma confirmed that the revitalisation of 106 nursing colleges was underway and that more nurses were receiving training at universities.
Health minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said nurse shortages were a global problem, which was not unique to South Africa. He noted that part of the problem in South Africa was a failure to employ enough nurses and doctors during the period 1997 to 2006. He committed to hiring more nurses to address the shortfall.
Motsoaledi said nurses were specifically needed in the midwifery, neonatal, and primary health care services and expressed the hope that boosting these nurse numbers would assist in curbing the high infant mortality rate and maternal deaths in the country.
He re-iterated the importance of community health workers in proactively identifying health problems. He said five-person teams that included a range of health workers such as nurses, doctors and community health workers would be established in communities.
Motsoaledi said it was critical for nurses to use the summit as an opportunity to identify problems in their profession and offer solutions.
Motsoaledi expressed his dislike for nursing agencies and said he wished is to abolish them and give all nurses permanent jobs. “Moonlighting (nurses holding down more than one nursing agency jobs) is destroying nursing,” he said.
The minister invited two young female nurses wearing white uniforms – white dress, cap and white shoes - reminiscent of the 1980s onto the stage. “What is wrong with going back to that style of dressing? Patients need your love, compassion and passion,” he said.
Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, said nursing remained a calling and not a lucrative career from which one should aim to derive wealth. She called on nurses to return to the day when they had “beautiful figures and wore clean white dresses and were the envy of many in communities”.
She said she hoped that the Summit was one way in which the “tide of reputational damage” could be reversed.
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