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…govt says Nurses and Midwives Act 2019 illegal
By Svetlana Marshall
President of the Guyana Nurses’ Association (GNA), Cleopatra Barkoye, said after halting the work of the General Nursing Council, the Ministry of Health is now attempting to usurp the functions of the regulatory body – a situation the association warns has major implications for the health of the nation.
The General Nursing Council is a semi-autonomous regulatory body responsible for the registration of nurses in Guyana including Registered Nurses, Midwives, Nursing Assistants and Specialised Nurses, and the monitoring of the practice.
Barkoye, in an exclusive interview with the Village Voice Newspaper, explained that when the life of the General Nursing Council came to an end in December 2021, the Chief Nursing Officer Nalinie Dass-Sutton requested that the life of the Council be extended, however, Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony reportedly objected, and in doing so, advised that the work of the Council be halted instead.
Attempts to contact the Health Minister, and his Advisor, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy on Friday, April 1, proved futile, however, the Village Voice Newspaper understands that the Health Ministry in justifying its decision not to extend or install a new Council, submitted that the Nurses and Midwives Act, which was passed in the National Assembly in January 2019 – less than a month after the No-Confidence Motion – is illegal, and must first be repealed before another Council is installed.
“We at the association, we understand, if you say that the bill is illegal, alright good but we want to know what is your rationale for not extending the life of the council. It would have happened before, not once but more than once,” the President of the Nurses’ Association said as she spoke directly to the Health Minister through the interview.
The Nurses and Midwives Act, which replaced a much older legislation, empowers the Nursing Council to enroll, register, certify and license nursing personnel in Guyana as well as to establish clear standards for education, training, conduct and performance. The Act, which was crafted with support from the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), was passed in the National Assembly following extensive consultation with the Guyana Nurses’ Association (GNA) and nurses from across the country in both the private and public sectors.
Barkoye said if indeed the Nurses and Midwives Act is ‘illegal,’ the Health Ministry can rely on the old legislation, which provides for similar functions, to extend the life of the Council given its importance.
“It is important to regulate the practice of nursing because the profession is a licensed profession. If you don’t have a license as a nurse, then you are practicing illegally, and if anything happens to a patient you are in trouble,” Barkoye pointed out.
She iterated that in addition to the issuance of licenses, the Council is responsible for training standards, examinations and the registration of all nurses.
“So when he said hold off on all of the functions of the Council, nurses who are waiting for registration, they are on hold; nurses awaiting exams, they too are on hold; nurses abroad who are awaiting verification of their training materials and transcripts, they too are on hold. Everything is on hold,” the GNA President explained.
Barkoye said much to the Nurses’ Association’s disappointment, the Health Ministry is not only taking active steps to facilitate Nursing Exams, but has also initiated a Nursing Assistant Programme in Lethem in the absence of a Nursing Council.
“For a nursing school to open it is not like any other school. These schools have to be accredited, you have to get the permission of the council… but because there is no functioning Council now, that is something else they are trying to do through the backdoor,” she said.
In a letter seen by the Village Voice Newspaper, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Narine Singh, on March 2, 2022, formally requested the Standard Operating Procedures for Nursing Education and Examination from the Council’s Registrar, Donnette Kellman.
“While we await the reconstitution of a new council, the Ministry is requesting a collaborative approach in providing support to the Health Sciences Education Department.
In light of the above mentioned, the Ministry of Health is therefore, officially requesting the documents relating to the Standard Operating Procedures for nursing education and examinations,” a section of the letter reads.
According to Barkoye, only the Council can legally administer nurses’ examinations in Guyana, and issue the requisite licenses. She said to do the contrary, would be to breach the laws of the country.
“The Health Ministry is attempting to strip the Council of its functions and that’s unfortunate. Secondly, who will license the nurses, if there is an ‘inside exam’? If you have an exam prepared by the Ministry of Health, who will authenticate the exam? Who will give nurses the license to practice?” Barkoye questioned.
Given the Association’s concerns, a letter was dispatched to the Health Minister in early February, however, Barkoye said to date, GNA has not received a response, not even a letter of acknowledgement.
The Executive of GNA, according to Barkoye, subsequently called on the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira, to intervene, however, despite a commitment, the Health Ministry has not budged on the matter.
Barkoye made it clear that exams prepared in the absence of the Nursing Council cannot result in the issuance of licenses by the Council.
“If you have nurses, who wrote the ministry’s exam and they are not licensed to practice, there is no way that those nurses can care effectively and efficiently for the health of this nation because there is no body that they would be answerable to,” she opined.
It was noted too that the current situation could result in a number of nurses, both local and foreign, practicing nursing illegally in the country.
With little to no response from Government, in particular, the Health Ministry, Barkoye said the Nurses Association is plotting its next move to prevent any takeover of the functions of the Council.