Nurses are healthcare leaders and must use their voice to ensure health is provided as a basic human right.

This is the message of the South African Medical Association (SAMA) ahead of International Nurses Day tomorrow. This year’s theme is: ‘A voice to lead – health is a human right’.

SAMA encourages all South Africans to acknowledge the massive role nurses play in society.

“Nurses play a critical role in the provision of healthcare in South Africa. They make remarkable contributions to ensuring the health and wellness of patients and often deal with the social determinants of health such as poverty, unemployment and ethnicity. We cannot overstate their importance enough,” said Chairperson of SAMA, Dr Mzukisi Grootboom.

Nurses are often the only health professionals accessible to many people in their lifetime. They are particularly well placed, and are often the most innovative in reaching populations which are underserved and disadvantaged.

According to Grootboom, the decisions nurses make multiple times a day in everyday practice can make a vital difference in the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire system. Nurses are at the core of attaining the best balance in quality and access.

“Despite their importance, the socio-economic welfare of nurses is poor or inadequate in large parts of the world. They work in very difficult situations and in many places there is a dire nursing shortage. South Africa has 39.3 nurses per 10,000 population, but a high percentage of them work in the private sector; there are acute shortages in especially rural areas,” said Dr Grootboom.

Research has shown that hospitals with a higher ratio of nurses to patients have lower mortality rates, and indicates that lower nurse staffing, increased workload, and unstable nursing unit environments are linked to negative patient outcomes, including falls and medication errors.

Improved work environments and reduced ratios of patients to nurses are associated with increased care quality and patient satisfaction.

“Because of their importance and proximity to communities we call on all nurses to be the voice that leads and guides health as a basic human right,” concluded Dr Grootboom.

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