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Nurses crucial to quality healthcare goal

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By SHARON BROWNIE
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The healthcare system may stumble yet again if nurses go ahead with their planned strike next month. Their union has issued a 21-day strike notice accusing the government of failing to implement an agreement reached last year.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has a dream that by the end of his second term in 2022, Kenyans will have access to critical healthcare services without denting their pockets.

However, this may be difficult to achieve if the issues of quality of healthcare and presence of adequate workforce persist.

All governments need to invest in and develop their nursing and midwifery workforces to achieve a rapid and cost-effective expansion of high-quality Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

According to a recently launched report, which I had the privilege to co-author, titled, ‘Nursing and Midwifery: The Key to the Rapid and Cost-Effective Expansion of High-Quality Universal Health Coverage’, nurses play a major role in the provision of health services and are central to effectively managing the defining health challenges of modern times.

The current global policy on UHC can be strengthened through greater focus on particularly nursing and midwifery. There would be a profound effect on how quickly the UHC could be achieved if a nurses and midwives were enabled to work more effectively or to take on new roles in expanded and speciality practice.

The report shows that by redesigning health services to make better use of nurses and midwives, countries such as Kenya can achieve high-quality, cost-effective UHC.

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Kenya could adopt a strategy that combines investment in personnel with changes in service delivery and practice. This means enabling nurses and midwives to work to their full potential through the creation of more nurse-led clinics, more specialist nurses and more midwifery services.

There is enormous potential for nurses to expand their scope of practice through task-sharing. One study cited in the report estimates that advanced-practice nurses can complete 70 percent of a general practitioner’s workload, freeing up doctors to attend to patients with higher levels of acuity.

There is evidence of the positive impact that a patient-centred and holistic approach have on the quality of care. Studies show that nurses generally achieve equivalent health outcomes for long-term non-communicable diseases management.

Nurses often score higher for patient satisfaction and treatment adherence. They are well-positioned to provide health-promotion and disease-prevention advice and coordinate and support teams of primary health care workers.

The current challenges are much more than just increasing nurses’ allowances. While this is vital, at the core of the debate is also appreciating the value they add to the healthcare system and empowering them to reach their full potential.

Prof Brownie is the Dean of Nursing and Midwifery in East Africa at Aga Khan University

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