Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system in The Bahamas and without them that system “would likely collapse,” Minister of Health Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis said Thursday.

Addressing the 32nd annual Nurses Association of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas Conference which opened Thursday in New Providence, Dr. Minnis said nurses have made many meaningful contributions to the delivery of healthcare in The Bahamas not only at the clinical level, but also at the administrative level.

Dr. Minnis said nurses are unique in that they deliver healthcare to people in all settings “whether it is in homes, hospitals, community clinics, schools, worksites or institutions. As a matter of fact, wherever people are found.”

“Nurses start the delivery of healthcare as they screen patients, assess their conditions, establish their vitals and begin the process of observation and evaluation,” Dr. Minnis said. “Physicians have come to rely upon their accurate assessments, observations and nursing diagnoses.

“I have a great deal of respect for nurses (as they) are a cadre of healthcare professionals who provide health service to patients/clients twenty-four hours each day,” Dr. Minnis added.

Dr. Minnis said nurses face many challenges in “delivering healthcare of the highest caliber.” He said these include rising costs of healthcare, increasing consumer expectations and demands, ageing populations, nursing shortages, natural and man-made disasters, new and re-emerging diseases, a rise in chronic, non-communicable diseases (CNCDs) and the need to focus on community-based care.

The Health Minister said despite the challenges, nurses “have led the way” in the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) – which has always been managed by nurses – and which, he said, is the envy of “many in the region.”

“Our immunization coverage has consistently ranged from 86 per cent to 99 per cent (which is) truly a magnanimous accomplishment for a small country with limited resources,” Dr. Minnis added.

Dr. Minnis said that in “appreciation” of the important role nurses have played and continue to play in the delivery of quality primary healthcare to citizens across the length and breadth of The Bahamas, the Government of The Bahamas provided an allocation in the 2008/9 Budget to support the studies of 25 new nursing students at the College of The Bahamas for the Fall Semester.

“Additionally, we supported the reinstatement of ten nursing students who had to withdraw for various reasons from a previously approved grant.”

Dr. Minnis said the Cabinet of The Bahamas also recently approved the engagement of a consultant to coordinate the Community Health Nursing Diploma Programme at the College of The Bahamas.

He said the Government of The Bahamas, through its agencies – the Department of Public Health and the Public Hospitals Authority – is “supporting” 18 registered Nurses/Midwives in this Programme.

“I am told that these nurses are expected to graduate from the Programme next year and will join their colleagues in Public Health in New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands, to lead the way in delivering quality healthcare to all citizens of The Bahamas,” Dr. Minnis said.

“I am pleased to say that quality healthcare has been delivered to our people in The Bahamas for decades and that yes, nurses have led the way and to say that the Government and people of our country owe a great debt of gratitude to nurses,” Dr. Minnis added.

Almost 200 nurses from the public and private healthcare systems in New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands attended the one-day conference held under the theme: “Nurses Leading the Delivery of Quality Healthcare.”

Nurses Association of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas President Mrs. Prescola Rolle said the objective of the conference was to empower nurses to develop effective leadership skills that will enable them to further deliver quality healthcare to their clients/patients.

She said the conference afforded nurses the opportunity to identify leadership styles, roles and qualities; recognize the correlation between effective leadership and quality service; outline specific activities of the nurse in maintaining quality in the provision of healthcare; explore the provision of primary healthcare in various nursing disciplines and share best practices, all with a view to ensuring that the greatest quality of healthcare is provided to all sectors of society.