Minister of Health Cecil McKie.

KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Minister of Health Cecil McKie told Parliament on Thursday that there were “great difficulties” with the group of nurses who completed their programme on Sept. 1 and are expected to graduate next June.

He, however, did not elaborate on these “difficulties” even as he said the government would be re-examining the programme.

“Mr. Speaker, we had great difficulties with this batch of nurses and, for reasons that I will not state here, I think we have to look at certain aspects of the administration of that programmes as we go forward,” he said in response to a question from Daniel Cummings, a Member of Parliament from the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).

McKie said that of the 60 students, who began their programme in 2008, four dropped out by the end of 2009. Of the remaining 56, 20 failed, two resigned, and an additional two dropped out.

McKie gave an overview of the programme, which began in 2003, when the Unity Labour Party began training 100 nurses per year, five times the amount trained annually during the NDP years.

Of the 520 students accepted to the programme between 2003 and 2007, 199 dropped out, 250 graduated, and 20 more have met graduation requirement but will write the regional nursing examination this month.

McKie noted that only persons who meet the academic requirements are interviewed and even then, they still have to pass an interview before being accepted to programme.

He, however, told Parliament that the dropout rate for the first batch of students — in 2003 — was “particularly high”.

“Some students never returned after orientation, some found other employment, some were demoted due to pregnancy or failure,” he explained.

He said other reasons for dropout since the programme began include resignations, abandonment, pregnancy, illness, migration, and termination – which, in some cases, means failing set exams.

McKie said that the government has employed 162 of the 250 nurses who graduated from the programme while an additional 85 nurses found jobs overseas, including 60 in Barbados. Three nurses still awaiting jobs here will be employed soon, the minister further said.

Since the programme began in 2003, it has consistently failed to meet its target of training 100 years per year, with the intake falling below that figure, except in 2001 and 2004, when 104 and 100 students were accepted respectively.

The students accepted in 2006 began their training in 2007, because fewer than 50 persons were accepted.

The programme, which has registered a constant decrease in enrolment, has accepted an average of 72 students per year, with an average of 20 dropouts per year.

The programme takes three years to complete and has registered an average of 63 graduates for each of the four batches that completed the course of study.

McKie said that the government, “by necessity, must and will continue the policy of training nurses”, saying that 160 persons applied to the programme this year.

He said nurses continue to be in demand locally, regionally, and internationally.

“And it is for this reason why the training aspect is going to be critical going forward,” he said, adding that his Trinidadian counterpart has said that that country has vacancies for up to 2,000 nurses.

“They have in fact made a request for us to help them in providing more nurses as we already have done.”

McKie said that during his visit to Cuba two weeks ago he met with the 60 Vincentian nurses pursuing bachelor degrees there and that their average grades exceeded 90 per cent.

“They are doing extremely well,” he said, adding that the government will apply for some of these nurses to receive parallel training in specialised fields.

He further noted that there are lots of opportunities for nurses.

“Nursing is in great demand, we will continue to train our nurses and I dare say that we will ensure that the standards are upkept by the quality of nurses entering the programme,” he said.

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