Trained Bhutanese nurses sent to work abroad

THIMPHU (Kuensel/ANN) - Trained nurses in Bhutan have found an opportunity to work abroad.

Since the labour ministry announced the opportunity for nurses to work as healthcare assistant to work in Singapore, eight nurses have been selected through Heritage Socap Pte. Ltd to work at the Woodlands Health Campus (WHC) in Singapore for two years.  

About 25 nurses applied to work in Singapore. While it is an opportunity for the nurses, there is an irony. On one hand, the country is experiencing shortage of nurses or a high attrition rate. On the other, trained nurses are sent to work abroad.

Records with the health ministry show that at least two nurses leave the profession every month. With 16 nurses who voluntarily resigned until June this year, about 125 nurses have left the profession in the last six years.

Is the decision contradicting the priority?

No, says labour minister, Ugyen Dorji.  “Such opportunity would not contradict the existing issue of shortages of nurses. Instead it would create an opportunity for nursing graduates to gain employment,” he said when asked about the shortage of nurses.

The ministry’s hands, it seems, is tied. “We agree on the shortages, but on the other hand, the reality is that we have lot of nursing graduates in the market still looking for job after completions,” the labour minister said.

“So, where is the problem, the problem is not about ministry sending nurses to work overseas, the problem is from somewhere else why the country is seeing increase in nurses’ attrition rate.”

Sources said that the health ministry, even with acute shortages of nurses cannot take in all the nurses, even if they are trained. The intake is determined by the Royal Civil Service Commission.

There are about 500 trained nurses in the market. The health ministry cannot absorb them even with the shortage. Minister Ugyen Dorji explained that some 500 nurses were trained in different institutions, about 200 in India. However, after completion, the health ministry could not absorb all the graduates.

“The ministry then tried to engage these unemployed graduates through the Direct Employment Scheme sometime in 2016-2017. But after the completion of the scheme they were left unemployed.”

The ministry, even to this day, receives request for extension of the programme. However, as the health ministry is not able to employ them and extension was not possible as the direct employment scheme has been discontinued.

In such situation, Lyonpo said that it was difficult for the ministry to continue supporting through the DES where the salary was born by the ministry. “What would the ministry (labour) do when the sole mandate is to provide employment? There is an opportunity for trained nurses to find employment outside the country.”

The minister clarified that the offer or opportunity had came even before he had assumed office. The ministry is now looking to explore opportunities to send nurses as health assistant in some hospitals in Singapore.

“It would only be wise for us to explore job opportunities abroad to engage our nursing graduates, as some of the hospitals are putting in proposals,” he said. “But the plan was never to contradict with the country’s shortage of nurses.”

With salaries starting from Singapore Dollar 1,000, the ministry targeted to send  25 nurses for the year. However, only eight have been selected. The opportunity would be provided especially to registered jobseekers with the ministry or those that had worked under DES.

“We’ll learn from the experience, look into it carefully and learning from the overseas experiences, ministry will explore this opportunity,” the labour minister said. “The continuation of this will depend on the success of the first batch.”

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