Jigmi Wangdi

Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk stressed that the recruitment of foreign nurses is a temporary solution.

Lyonpo shared that there is an expected supply of 1,593 nurses from within the country, including 25 nurses studying in India to be employed by 2027.

By employing these local nurses, it is expected that the foreign nurses can be sent back as the local health workforce can be used to relieve the burden of medical staff shortage faced today.

This issue was raised during the fourth sitting of the first session, the fourth parliament yesterday when the member of Shompangkha constituency, Tek Bdr Rai and member of Khamdang-Ramjar constituency, Namgay Dorji, shared their concerns on the recruitment of foreign nurses into the country during the question hour session.

Both the members had shared concerns about how recruiting foreign nurses and paying them a higher salary compared to local nurses could be affecting their morale and demoralising them further.

Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk responded by sharing that the health sector is facing acute shortages of health workers. Lyonpo shared that the country has a shortage of 69 specialists, 103 doctors and 824 nurses.

“In 2023 alone, 259 nurses resigned and currently, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) has a shortage of over 380 nurses as per the standard requirement to maintain optimum service delivery. Initiatives to reinstate on a contract basis the services of nurses after their retirement/resignation are also introduced as a measure to address the national nurses’ gap,’’ Lyonpo shared.

Lyonpo also shared that the ministry conducted a study to understand why the health workforce is leaving. “The career path, professional development and peer pressure play a role. However, financial reasons seem to be the main cause for the health workforce to resign and leave.”

Upon comparative research of the financial incentives of medical staff in Australia, the ministry found that a P4 nurse is paid around Nu 57,000 in Bhutan, while the same level gets paid around Nu 3,54,000 in Australia.

Similarly, ES1 nurses are paid Nu 1,48,000 in Bhutan and in Australia, they are paid Nu 5,55,000. Doctors in Bhutan are paid around Nu 73,000 while in Australia, they are paid around Nu 15,95,000.

Lyonpo said that this could be a reason why the medical staff are choosing to leave.

Additionally, Lyonpo added that paying global competitive packages to the national health workforce, even if the government desired, would not be sustainable in the long run, considering the economic situation and the capacity of the country’s national budget.

For the foreign nurses, Lyonpo said that the foreign nurses will be paid more because they are coming from abroad. Regionally, nurses and specialists are paid USD 4,000 to USD 5,000 per month depending on their experience.

“However, the 145 foreign nurses will be paid between USD 800 to USD 1,000 based on the number of years and experience,” Lyonpo said, adding that the only reason for recruiting them is because the country does not have any more nurses to employ immediately.

Lyonpo also said that an extended hour system has also been introduced, where the nurses can work an extra six hours and will be paid Nu 1,000 to Nu 1,500 based on their experience.

For the coming years, Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk shared that the MBBS programme which began this year under the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan has 68 students enrolled with an additional 55 students, will be able to reduce the burden in hospitals by 2027.

As for the 1,593 nurses who can be employed by 2027 are from local institutes and academies such as Apollo Bhutan Institute of Nursing, Arura Academy of Health Science and Royal Thimphu College.

Lyonpo said that the ministry was also looking into improving the career path and professional development programme for doctors and nurses.