Despite shortage within Nepal, government signs agreement to send nurses to Britain

Nepal on Monday signed an MoU to send at least 200 licensed nurses to the UK. Observers say this could result in a shortage of nurses in Nepal.

Secretary of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security Ek Narayan Aryal and British Ambassador to Nepal Nicola Pollitt signed an MoU on Monday. Photo: UK Embassy to Nepal

Shrutika Raut

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Kathmandu: Nepal already fails to maintain nurse-to-patient ratio at home.

Although the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends nurse-to-patient ratio should be maintained at 1:6, Nepal is not even near to the recommendation of the global health body. 

The nurse-to-patient ratio should be three nurses per one operation table, and there should be nurses equal to the number of general and intensive care unit beds. However, the hospitals in Nepal are not following these rules, not even the government hospitals. One nurse in Nepal’s government hospital does the work of seven nurses, a report of the International Labor Organization shows.

Despite such a situation, Nepal on Monday signed an agreement to send at least 200 licensed nurses to the United Kingdom. The agreement is the first step towards sending 10,000 health professionals, mostly nurses, to the UK in the next five years.

Nepal needs an additional 20,000 personnel, including doctors and nurses, to make the health system more resilient against a health crisis like Covid-19 pandemic, officials at the Health Ministry say

The Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security and the Embassy of the United Kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to formalize a government-to-government bilateral agreement enabling Nepali health professionals to work in Britain.

According to the Nepal Nursing Council, Nepal currently has 72,550 registered nurses, of which 25,000 are working in foreign lands. 

The nurse-to-patient ratio for general beds should be 1:6, but Nepal has been struggling to meet the recommendation of the WHO, according to the Nepal Nursing Council. 

The process to go to the UK will cost nothing for successful candidates. “The UK government will bear the cost of the ticket and visa for nurses going to the UK under the agreement,” said Danduraj Ghimire, joint secretary at the Ministry.

The government has failed to increase vacancies for nurses in the last two and a half decades despite massive increment of hospital beds and patients.

According to the Nepal Nursing Council, Nepal already has a massive crunch of nurses, but the government is planning to send 10,000 nurses to the UK. “Nepal just has enough nurses to maintain the nurse-to-patient ratio. Rather than opening vacancies, the government is sending licensed nurses to foreign land,” said an official at Nepal Nursing Council on condition of anonymity.

As per the latest data, 10,000 nurses are unemployed in Nepal. The government has created 14,000 positions for nurses at public hospitals and institutions, but 5,000 positions are still vacant, say officials at the Nursing Council. The demand is three to four times higher than the available vacancies, they say.

The government has failed to increase vacancies for nurses in the last two and a half decades despite massive increment of hospital beds and patients.

Lately, Nepal has been producing 4,500 PCL-level nurses and 1,000 bachelors-level nurses annually. The number of graduates is declining further as the Medical Education Act (2018) has a provision that a nursing college must have its own building with at least 100 beds.

With the new provision, the number of nursing colleges has declined to 35, and Nepal has capacity to produce only 1,500 PCL nurses and 300 bachelor’s-level nurses. “Nepal is heading towards a massive shortage of nurses in the next few years,” the official said.

Talking to Nepal Live Today, Sakuntala Prajapati, acting registrar at Nursing Council admitted that Nepal already has a dearth of nurses as majority of them go to the foreign lands for further opportunities. When asked if agreements like this hit the health sector further, Prajapati didn’t wish to comment.

According to government officials, the jobs in the UK are lucrative for Nepali healthcare workers. “Those between 20 to 45 years of age with more than two years of experience are eligible to go to the UK under the program. However, nurses need to score seven in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Occupational English Test (OET) before appearing in the British nursing examination,” according to the Labor Ministry. 

The selected nurses must pass the British nursing examination in three attempts to be eligible to work under the program, according to the Ministry. “Nepali nurses, according to the agreement, will get the same salary as British nurses.”

“Those appearing IELTS require an overall score of seven, with a minimum score of seven in each band apart from writing with the minimum score of 6.5,” according to the Ministry. “For OET, candidates require at least Grade B in reading, writing and listening sections, and Grade C+ in the writing section.”