The recruitment of nurses from poorer nations by high-income countries is spiraling out of control, warns the head of a major global nursing organization. Ghana’s health system is facing significant challenges due to the “brain-drain” caused by many specialized nurses leaving the country for better-paying positions overseas. In 2022 alone, over 1,200 Ghanaian nurses joined the nursing register in the UK. This trend is driven by the National Health Service’s increasing reliance on non-EU staff to fill staffing gaps.
While the UK claims that active recruitment in Ghana is prohibited, nurses easily access job vacancies in NHS trusts through social media, further fueling their desire to leave the country. Ghana’s struggling economy acts as a major factor contributing to this situation. Howard Catton from the International Council of Nurses expresses deep concern over the exodus of nurses from countries like Ghana, stating that the current situation is “out of control.” High-income countries, mainly six or seven of them, are intensively recruiting nurses from some of the weakest and most vulnerable nations that cannot afford to lose their nursing workforce.
The impact of this brain-drain is devastating for Ghana’s healthcare system. Greater Accra Regional Hospital’s head of nursing, Gifty Aryee, reveals that the Intensive Care Unit alone has lost 20 nurses to the UK and US in the past six months, resulting in compromised patient care and increased mortality rates. The shortage of nurses leads to delays in patient treatment and longer waiting times in emergency departments. At Cape Coast Municipal Hospital, the situation is no different. The hospital’s deputy head of nursing services, Caroline Agbodza, laments the departure of 22 nurses to the UK over the past year, leaving them with a shortage of experienced staff. The repercussions extend to smaller clinics as well, where the departure of even a single nurse can have a significant cascading effect.
The consequences of this nurse migration are dire. Services such as immunization for children and post-surgery care for adults are compromised, potentially leading to avoidable deaths. The appeal of higher salaries abroad motivates many Ghanaian nurses to seek opportunities elsewhere. Mercy Asare Afriyie, working at Kwaso healthcare center, shares her desire to find a job in the UK due to the poor conditions and meager salaries in Ghana, where financial stability is a constant struggle.
Perpetual Ofori-Ampofo from Ghana’s Nurses and Midwives Association emphasizes the ethical dilemma posed by the sheer numbers of professional nurses leaving Ghana compared to trainee or auxiliary nurses. Although migration is a right, she calls on the Ghanaian government to make efforts to retain nurses and provide more support to the healthcare system. The UK government recently allocated £15 million to Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya to strengthen their healthcare.