As Botswana enters its next national planning cycle, two district commissioners have called for the development of a substantive policy response to tackle the epidemic of unprofessional conduct by government nurses.
“If you visit a hospital, you go back home a sick person. As we go into NDP 10, there has to be a policy of how we deal with nurses’ lack of professionalism. Not all nurses display such conduct but there is urgent need to address the attitude of those with bad conduct. Nowadays, most people prefer go to private doctors because when they get there they are welcomed with a smile,” said Tlale Setumo, the Chobe district commissioner.
Even the Ministry of Health appears to be at its wits’ end about the problem. When a senior ministry official suggested that ‘divine intervention’ might be the cure the doctor ordered, there was no mirth in her voice – only dejection and exasperation.
The issue was tabled by the North-west district commissioner, Bernadette Malala, who complained that today’s nurses are not as caring and compassionate as yesteryear’s.
“Unless it’s a relative of theirs, you will never see them bathe or feed feeble patients as used to happen in the past. I know of a case where a gravely ill patient at a government hospital fell and cut himself but no nurse wanted to wipe the blood off his face,” Malala said.
The Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health, Shehnaz El-Halabi, said that the Ministry of Health plans to provide public relations skills to nurses as part of in-service training and as part of an effort to tackle the lack of professionalism. The latter statement was met with open-mouthed astonishment by some in the audience. Speaking from the floor and in her personal capacity, Monica Mphusu asked whether nurses were not given or familiarised with PR etiquette during their basic training in college as standard practice.
“Are we not wasting resources?” asked Mphusu, the former Radio Botswana general manager who now works for the Government Communications and Information Services in the Office of the President.
The director of policy planning, monitoring and evaluation, Ontlametse Mokopakgosi’s response was that although such training is provided, it was obviously having very little impact.
“Bear in mind that today’s generation is different from the one that came before it. No matter what you do, the problem does not go away. We probably need to pray for help from above. We have conducted a customer service survey and one of the major concerns that were raised was about [nurses’] attitude. We are trying to tackle the problem but the task is not easy. In the past, people went into nursing for the love of the job; nowadays they just want to make a living,” she said.
This exchange occurred during a breakaway session of the NDP 10 Stakeholder Conference that took all of last week. Nurses became subjects of controversial focus as delegations from North-west and Chobe districts discussed health, shelter and social wellbeing.