The Health Ministry has been asked to boldly decide on scrapping the allowances given trainee nurses. The Upper East Regional Director of Health Services, Dr John Koku Awoonor-Williams says this will ensure that only committed nurses are employed into the service.

The Upper East Regional Director of Health Services, Dr John Koku Awoonor-Williams, has asked the Ministry of Health to take the bold decision of scrapping the allowance given to trainee nurses, just as has been done by the Ministry of Education.

That, he said, would not only ensure equity but also bring the best and committed nurses into the health profession.

In an interview with the Daily Graphic, Dr Awoonor-Williams said the example demonstrated by the Ministry of Education should bring to closure to the debate on whether or not trainee nurses should be given allowances or not.

“Currently, there is absolutely no accountability in the management of trainee nurses’ allowances, resulting in huge loses to the taxpayer,” he said.

The nursing profession was a unique one in the country and once “you gain admission to a nursing school, you are sure of employment. All must be done to ensure that only those who are committed to serve humanity are allowed in”.

Favoured Profession

He said although the nursing profession was most favoured, that did not reflect in the overall sector performance in many ways. Dr Awoonor-Williams explained that a student, once enrolled, could take five to six years to finally pass his or her examinations, even if he or she failed every year, explaining that no matter the number of years it took him or her to finally pass the examination, that student would continue to receive trainee allowance.

“It seems as if there is no end. There are many students who have continued to receive trainee allowances for five years for a two-year programme, simply because they continue to fail their final licensure examinations and so long as they continue to fail, they continue to receive allowances,” he said.

Currently, trainee nurses receive allowances to the tune of GHC 356 a month and this is believed to have contributed to the lack of motivation for students to pass their examinations once and for all.

The Daily Graphic learnt that those who fail their final licensure examinations ran to the private clinics and facilities to work, even though they do not have the qualifications. Again, most of the proprietors do not care once the person has a uniform and claims to be a nurse.

That situation, Dr Awoonor-Williams said, was untenable and a waste in the system.
‘No country does this, not even the richest countries. It is time to make bold policy decisions,” he said.

Training Institutions

According to Dr Awoonor-Williams, with the opening of more and more nurses training institutions in the country by the Ministry of Health, one could imagine the amount of money that would go into trainee nurses’ allowances and the effect that will have on the overall health sector budget and health services provision.

These schools are opened without thinking of the anticipated increase in the volume of trainee allowances. Teachers are equally as important as nurses and there is no need to scrap allowances for teacher trainees and keep those for nurse trainees,” he emphasised.

He wondered why the Ministry of Health and the Ghana Health Service were silent on trainee nurses’ allowances while public debate was raging regarding teacher trainee allowances.

“Maintaining the trainee nurses’ allowance while scrapping that for teacher trainees will rather portray a huge inequity. The health sector is at the crossroads in terms of funding and this needs practical solutions, innovations and time-tested policy reforms to address the huge funding gaps.

“Our traditional partners are not putting into the sector the resources we used to get in the past simply because of our status as a lower middle-income country. With over 90 per cent of our health sector budget going into salaries and wages, with only less than 10 per cent left for actual service delivery, it is time we thought outside the box and did things differently, reduce waste and ensure that we manage the fewer resources prudently to bring about equity and efficiency,’ he added.

Dr Awoonor-Williams said nurse trainees must be supported to access loans from the Students Loan Trust Fund (SLTF) and SSNIT just as other students did to fund their education.

The days when the free trainee nurses’ allowance policy was relevant are long gone and it is time we faced the reality of modern times. It is time the government took a critical look at all trainees who are on allowances across all the sectors and scrap the allowances, while putting in measures for those trainee students are able to access loans to fund their education.

It will breed responsibility and commitment. It is the only way that committed and serious students will be attracted to these professions.

For now, it seems the attraction is the free money. Taking this step will, therefore, ensure equity and fairness across the board all over the country and ensure that only the best and committed prospective students who have the passion for the nursing profession are attracted. There is absolutely no justification to continue this flawed policy that has existed for too long,” he added.