For some time now, we have been hearing about the nursing shortages in public hospitals. Nursing union bosses go on about it and keep pressuring Okypy to hire more nurses because the hospitals cannot cope with the shortages. A nursing union boss said that almost 40 beds were out of use at Nicosia general hospital and 20 at Limassol hospital because there were not enough nurses, who were doing their best to ease the burden on the A&E departments.

The same union boss was quick to point out that the answer would not be to issue permits for the employment of nurses from third countries as this would supposedly have adverse consequences on the health sector. Another union boss said that the authorities must find ways of making the profession more attractive to the young people of the country. In fact, the unions came up with a list of suggestions for dealing with the problem.

One suggestion was for the education ministry and school career advisory services to work together to promote the nursing profession at schools. Private universities should reduce the tuition fees for degrees in nursing and midwifery, while the technical university Tepak should increase the number of places it is offering. They also mentioned government scholarships and payment when they are doing their practical training.

These are the type of self-serving irrationalities we have come to expect from union bosses. Even if these measures were introduced and were effective it would be four or five years before the supply of nurses would increase. The unions have a point in opposing the employment of large numbers of third country nationals as nurses because cultural differences and the language barrier would be obstacles to communication with patients, which is an essential part of care.

Predictably, the nursing unions did not consider the most obvious and fastest way of tackling the staffing shortage: drastically cutting the restrictive work practices at public hospitals that have been imposed by the unions over the years. Introduce shift work at hospitals and cut the civil service hours regime; reduce the number of nurses doing administrative work in hospitals and medical centres and have them replaced by clerical staff; cut the number of nurses per department which is excessive compared to private hospitals.

The only reason there are shortages in public hospitals is because of very poor organisation, imposed by unions, exclusively interested in creating a maximum number of nursing jobs. This has always been the union priority, never the efficient operation of the hospitals. There are no staff shortages at public hospitals. There is very bad organisation and poor utilisation of human resources caused by inflexible and restrictive work arrangements. When these are effectively addressed there would be no need for more nurses.