Nearly 4,000 nurses have left Ghana for better-paid jobs in Europe and the US over the past year, according to the country’s nursing association, worsening shortages of medical staff and placing increasing strain on those who remain.
Dr David Tenkorang-Twum, general secretary of the Ghana Registered Nurses and Midwives Association (GRNMA), said that between January and July, 2023, around 10,209 nurses sought clearance from its secretariat to leave the country for positions abroad.
“Of this total, approximately 4,000 nurses received clearance and have already embarked on overseas nursing careers,” he said.
The head of nursing at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital, Gifty Aryee, reported that the intensive care unit had lost 20 nurses to the UK and US in the last six months.
At Cape Coast Municipal Hospital in the south of Ghana, the situation is similar. Deputy head of nursing services Caroline Agbodza claimed 22 nurses departed for the UK over the last year.
“All our critical care nurses, our experienced nurses, have gone,” she said.
Loss of experience
The departure of experienced nurses is creating difficulty for those who have remained, said Tenkorang-Twum.
“Nursing care continues, and if those that are designated to come in to take shifts have left the country, those that remain have to put in more hours,” he said.
The loss of experienced nurses is also detrimental to those just entering the profession, he said.
The nurses leaving have typically spent several years in the profession, according to Tenkorang-Twum – so with their departure, there is no one to mentor the newly qualified.
But nurses say they can’t be expected not to seek opportunities overseas.
At the Kwaso Healthcare Centre near Kumasi, nurse Mercy Asare Afriyie said she was hoping to secure a job in the UK.
“The exodus of nurses is not going to stop because of our poor conditions of service,” she said.
“Our salary is nothing to write home about and in two weeks you spend it. It’s from hand to mouth.”
Yaa Pomaa, a Ghanaian nurse working in Birmingham in the UK, said the financial incentives were too great to ignore.
“You are paid based on shifts. Therefore, even if you are paid 15 pounds an hour and you work for 12 hours a day, four times a week, you multiply it – that is how much you earn. If I make 2,800 pounds a month and I pay a tax of, say, 500 and pay my rent, I can still save around 800 pounds.”
The issue has exacerbated existing shortages of nurses in rural areas across the country.
It is also likely to impede progress towards health-related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Ghanaian Health Minister, Kwaku Agyemang Manu, said the health ministry was working within local and international frameworks for health professional deployment and reintegration.
It is also working with the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations to streamline Ghana’s migration policy to address current and emerging issues.
This, the minister said, would ensure financial and brain gain from international deployment of health workers through mutually beneficial bilateral agreements.