Saturday, December 3, 2022

Is sending Nepali nurses abroad a good idea?

Photo Credit: Aelisha Gubaju

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Nepal and the UK recently signed a government-to-government agreement which allows the recruitment of Nepali nurses to the UK health system. To be eligible for the programme, nurses should be of 20 to 45 years old, should have professional license from the Nepal Nursing Council, have two years of experience in a registered hospital in Nepal and need to have English proficiency.

The best part of this agreement is that Nepali nurses will also receive the same rights, facilities and protection as the local health professionals in the UK and the annual pay range from 27,000 pounds sterling to 32,000-pound sterling. By now many nurses in Nepal should have started preparing for the English proficiency test to land this lucrative job in the UK.

While Nepal government names it a historic move, let's get a reality check. How many health professionals do we have while we are proudly agreeing to send our health professionals abroad? The JICA report in 2017 shows that total health professionals (doctors, nurses, midwives) in Nepal was 3.15 per 1000 people while UK has 15 nurses and midwives per 1000. Though the UK has five times more health personnel per 1000, experts say that the UK has fewer health personnel per person than most of the other OECD countries. The panicky situation during severe COVID-19 cases also showed that the UK lacks adequate medical personnel. That is why the agreement makes sense to the UK. But the situation in Nepal during COVID-19 was also not relaxing.

Low pay, over work, lack of job security, and many more problems have forced Nepalese technical manpower, including Nepali nurses, to migrate to developed countries like Canada and Australia. These countries are welcoming nurses with wide open arms and majority are doing pretty well too. But this new agreement will have long term effect, resulting the shortage of health professionals in Nepal health sector.

We all know when COVID-19 hit the country seriously, Nepali nurses were complaining about the overtime work which amounts to the exploitation of their labour. They had no option because hospitals did not have the sufficient manpower then. Knowing that we ourselves lack health professionals, this agreement with the UK is counter-productive.

Knowing that we ourselves lack health professionals, this agreement with the UK is counter-productive.

Looking at the individual level, the agreement can generate a great benefit for nurses and their family members, especially through the rise of family income. But migration of skilled manpower like nurses may generate other problems besides the scarcity of nurses in Nepali health sector. Those migrating nurses are also technical persons to produce more nurses like them. So, Nepal would not only have scarcity of nurses in hospitals but also the country loses teachers who can transfer their knowledge to their juniors. This will further decrease the number of nurses in the future.

At present, labour migration has been the main socio-economic characteristics of Nepal. Remittances sent by the foreign workers have contributed a lot for Nepal’s Gross Development Product (GDP).  Previously, the government-to-government agreement in labour migration was only limited to unskilled labourers but this is the first time where the country also agreed to send skilled manpower. In order to tackle the high unemployment rate, especially unskilled manpower, sending workers abroad makes sense. But the country should think about its long term effects.

Published on 26 August 2022

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