International Nurses Day: Nigeria can’t keep nurses it needs

Despite huge taxpayers’ money spent yearly on 285 schools of nursing and midwifery across Nigeria, the country has failed to keep the nurses it needs amid growing competition in the international nursing labour market.

Today, the International Nurses Day is being observed to mark the contributions that nurses make to society, with the theme ‘Nurses: A Voice to Lead – Invest in nursing and respect rights to secure global health’.

Nigerian nurses

Thousands of nurses and midwives who should cater to patients’ needs at proportionate ratio, elevate access to quality care and reduce mortality have continued to leave the country, in their quest for higher pay, improved working environment, visa packages and accommodation.

With a high attrition rate and a lean nursing workforce, Nigerians have to grapple with the reality of one nurse managing 25 to 30 patients on a shift in public health facilities, Blessing Israel, national vice-president of National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives, told BusinessDay.

Private hospitals do not have it better as they have equally seen unprecedented migration of their skilled hands in recent years, leaving the country with 15 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people, according to the World Health Organization Global Health Workforce statistics database.

Based on recent increases in capacity to train, Nigerian schools of nursing and university departments of nursing sciences should produce over 22,000 skilled people to the market, who can help meet WHO’s recommendation of 83 nurses and midwives per 10,000 people.

According to the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, about 7,000 of these nurses migrate annually to top destinations such as Europe, North America and the Middle East, despite the council’s refusal to upgrade the verification of nurses electronically for ease of migration.

“We can’t stop them. Other countries value us more, and the energy we put into our job and that’s why they are recruiting from Europe, US and the rest. Everybody including the old and young professionals are keying into it because the remuneration is better,” Israel said.

“We are urging the government to create the enabling environment for our people to thrive in our country. Government also needs to employ more hands. There are also a lot of nurses out there looking for jobs.”

Depending on the level, experience and qualifications, the annual salaries of nurses and midwives ranges between £20,330 and £93,735 in England; £21,709 and £103,358 in Scotland; £19,737 and £93,735 in Wales; and £19,337 and £91,004 in Northern Ireland, data obtained from United Kingdom on pay scales in healthcare show.

About 8,241 Nigerian nurses worked in the UK’s National Health Service in 2019. From April to September 2021, more than 10,000 new international nurses were registered in the UK, including 1,300 from Nigeria.

Data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics of the United States show that the annual wages of registered nurses hover around $59,450 and $ 120,250.

In Canada, registered nurses earn between $26.28 per hour and $48.37 per hour.

Jennifer Oyelade, employability specialist and Europe, Middle East, Africa consultant, told BusinessDay that the migration would continue, especially with the huge gap that the COVID-19 pandemic had created in places such as the UK.

According to her, the current staff of National Health Service are burnt out and overworked, and the authorities are actively creating incentives to woo people to come into the medical field, offering more competitive packages compared to what they are being offered in Nigeria.

“Going forward, there will be an increase. You have people who are working double shifts, 45 to 60 hours a week, in the NHS. There are people who caught COVID and have gone off work and they need replacement. The demand for nurses is high. They are enticed to come through a tier one highly skilled migrant visa,” Oyelade said.

Nurses make up the largest proportion of the health workforce, comprising 90 percent of the contacts between patients and health professionals, according to the International Council of Nursing. They are integral at all levels of the health system, from primary care, population health, specialised services, and policy and management.

Nurses make an essential contribution to all components of primary health care and are frequently the highest level provider, on the frontline, providing primary care services.

Nurses have been essential in expanding the delivery of more advanced services to rural and remote populations, through the informal reallocation of tasks, such as HIV treatment and medical male circumcision.

Olamide Brown, founder of Flying Doctors Healthcare Investment Group, said the government can approach the migration crisis in a way that enables it to sign agreements with top destinations of recruitment and earn the country foreign exchange on each professional that is taken.

“There are ways we can get more money into the healthcare system. One is to outsource medical skills. We have a huge brain drain problem. Why not change that into opportunity by making trade deals with countries that need doctors and taking a fee for it. Countries like Cuba and the Philippines have done this and it’s a source of income for them,” she said.

Source: International Nurses Day: Nigeria can’t keep nurses it needs – (

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