Guyana moves to hire foreign healthcare professionals to address local shortages

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
An orthopaedic surgery in progress at the GPHC

The Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ministry has confirmed that a letter dated February 5, 2024, was issued to a recruitment agency giving them the greenlight to recruit foreign health care workers amid serious gaps in the health sector’s workforce.

In a statement, the ministry referenced the letter addressed to Sigma Engineers Ltd. Incorporated, following its circulation in the media regarding the recruitment of Bangladesh healthcare workers.

However, the Ministry emphasised that qualified healthcare workers from anywhere in the world can be recruited. Moreover, the Ministry noted that this step was only taken after numerous requests from stakeholders.

“The ministry in response to a request from Sigma Engineers Ltd., issued the letter to confirm that the agency was authorized to recruit healthcare workers, with the view to addressing concerns raised both by the public and private sectors on the severe skills shortage in the health sector.”

“The Private Sector Commission has on numerous occasions requested the Government’s assistance in addressing the need to fill the skills shortages not only in the health sector but also in the critical sectors of construct ion, engineering, and services given the expansion and growth of Guyana’s economy.”

As such, the ministry explained that the recruitment agency was appointed to liaise with relevant authorities from various countries to recruit healthcare workers including, but not limited to Bangladesh.

“It is within this context that the authorization letter was issued by the Ministry to prevent issues such as human trafficking or any abuse of this process. The Ministry wishes to confirm that to date, no one has been recruited through Sigma Engineers Ltd. Inc as shortages are currently being filled by personnel from Cuba.”

“The Government of Guyana remains open to the recruitment of specialized skills which do not currently exist in Guyana from any part of the globe, for both the public and private sectors,” the ministry further explained.

Much has been said about Guyana’s present labour shortage, with the Ministry of Health forced to turn to the Cuban Government last year to assist with the shortage of nurses to fill capacities in the health system, even as efforts continue to train thousands of locals in the upcoming years.

The country has been faced with trained nurses leaving the system, and a majority migrating overseas in exchange for better opportunities. In some cases, recruiters have actively scooped up these healthcare professionals to work in their respective countries.

It had been reported in December of last year that locally, some 1100 persons are undergoing a hybrid nursing programme, which will be completed in three years. The aim is to train 1000 nurses annually, accompanied by another 1000 nursing assistants within that timeframe.

That same month, it was also reported that the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) was facing a shortage of 600 nurses to meet its full complement, which represents a deficit of 55 per cent.

As of December, 896 nurses were employed at the hospital, and of that number, 86 were hired this year. In addition, 146 nurses resigned in 2023, and according to the Director of Nursing Services, Dr Leslyn Holder, this number continues to increase.

The Government had raised the monthly wages of nurses, among other healthcare workers, to increase retention. In 2022, nurse aides had their current minimum salary adjusted upwards from $80,892 to $100,000.

This represented an additional 23.6 per cent increase in the minimum salary paid to each worker.

Nursing assistants also had their minimum salary adjusted upwards from $88,525 to $115,000. This represented an additional 29.9 per cent increase on the current minimum salary paid to a nursing assistant.

Midwives’ salaries moved up from $96,974 to $169,438, representing an additional 74.7 per cent increase on their previous salary. Staff nurses had their minimum salary adjusted upwards from $111,628 to $169,438 – a 51.8 per cent increase. Staff nurses/midwives’ salaries moved from $127,963 to $195,000, a 52.4 per cent increase.

Other sectors afflicted by labour shortages include the construction sector, amid the boom in construction caused by, among other things, the government’s housing drive. Last year, President Dr. Irfaan Ali had pointed out that in the construction sector in Region Six there was a need for an additional 600 skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers.