Amid strike threats, ministry pledges to resolve nursing student demands

By NYAN HLAING LYNN | FRONTIER

NAY PYI TAW — The Ministry of Health and Sport has defended a controversial change in the licensing of nurses that on Wednesday prompted hundreds of students from Yangon’s University of Nursing to protest.

The ministry has also promised to negotiate with the students to resolve the dispute, which has also prompted nurses in Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw to threaten strike action.

About 600 students from the University of Nursing in Lanmadaw Township marched from their campus to the Victory Monument at Maha Bandoola Park, after learning of a sudden change to their program that will prevent them from gaining nursing licences after graduating.

Students at the university learned late last month of the February 1 Ministry of Health directive, signed by Department of Medical Services director-general Dr Myint Han.

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Previous student intakes had been given licences on graduation with the expectation of spending three years working in a public hospital. The new orders would require them to complete the public hospital traineeship before the nursing licences are issued.

The ministry said the change was required because many graduates were refusing to work for three years at state hospitals as required and instead taking higher-paid jobs in the private sector.

Responding to the protests on Thursday, Myint Han said the measure was designed to ensure there were enough nurses to staff the country’s 1,123 state-run hospitals. Presently the hospitals only have about half of the nurses and midwives required, the director-general said.

“Twenty-five percent of nursing graduates do not work at public hospitals at all,” said Myint Han. “The people need nurses for their healthcare.”

He said the students would be given a nurse registration card upon graduation and would still be able to work in the private sector when they are off duty.

Permanent secretary Dr Thet Naing Win said the ministry had formed a seven-member committee to negotiate with the students over their demands.

“We will listen to them so that we can know the students’ needs and consider what we can do. Don’t worry about it. We’ll never make students feel aggrieved. As soon as possible we’ll find a convenient solution for the two sides,” he said.

The ministry is also studying why graduates are refusing to work in the state system so it can take steps to address the issue, the officials said.

The ministry also plans to train 1,500 to 2,200 nurses a year by building more training schools, they said.

Ma May Hnin Thu, a nurse from Mandalay Children’s Hospital, told journalists after the press conference that the officials had not responded clearly to the students’ demands.

She said strike action was still being considered.

“Unless we get an answer we want, or at least a transparent answer, we’ll take some sort of action,” she said.

“Maybe it will include the whole country. I want to tell you on behalf of every one of us. We’ll take everything into account. We’ll take action after considering everything.”

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