Hiring expatriate health workers imperative: Health Minister

Hiring expatriate health workers imperative: Health Minister

…..however, it is a short term solution

Facing an acute shortage of health workers, the government has implemented temporary measures to address the crisis, including hiring expatriate health professionals at higher pay rates than national workers.

Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk acknowledged the shortage, stating, “It is true that there is a shortage of health workers in the country, and the government had to hire health workers.” He emphasized that the measure is temporary and that the government had no choice but to pay expatriate workers more due to the urgent need.

According to the minister, Bhutan is currently short of 172 specialists and doctors, and 824 nurses. There are presently 179 specialists, 271 doctors, and 1,422 nurses in the country. In 2020, the country hired 21 specialists from Bangladesh, but now only seven remain, with plans to hire three more soon.

Responding to concerns raised by Member of Parliament (MP) Dr. Tek Bahadur Rai of Shompangkha constituency during a question and answer session in the ongoing parliament, the Health Minister highlighted that the primary reasons for health workers leaving the country include salary issues, career paths, professional development opportunities, and peer pressure.
MP Rai expressed concerns about salary disparities between national health workers and expatriates, warning that this could lead to more national health workers seeking opportunities abroad. “The health workers in the country and the health workers hired from other countries have a disparity in payment,” the MP stated. “The country has hired health workers from Bangladesh and now from India. There’s a chance that national health workers will plan, and some have even started to apply abroad for better opportunities.”

He added that the financial gap is exacerbating dissatisfaction among current health workers, making timely access to healthcare increasingly challenging for the population.
In response, the Health Minister announced that the government’s MBBS scholarship program has been expanded from 21 to 30 slots. Additionally, 55 doctors are expected to graduate from the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) by 2027.

The minister also noted that by 2027, about 623 nurses will graduate from the Apolo Bhutan Institute of Nursing, 194 from the KGUMSB, 482 from the Arura Academy of Health Sciences, and others from the Royal Thimphu College and institutions abroad. “With this number of nurse graduates by 2027, we hope the shortage of nurses in the country will be solved,” he said.

A source revealed that one major reason for national health workers leaving for abroad are the lower pay compared to expatriates hired by the government. A nurse expressed gratitude for the free education provided by the government but indicated that many will seek better opportunities abroad while promising to return home eventually.

Another nurse highlighted a disparity in practical experience, stating, “The nurses hired in the country are more theory-based, while national nurses have more practical experience.” He urged the government to take better care of those currently serving to prevent them from seeking opportunities abroad.

The ministry hopes to reduce the current nurse shortage by 30% through the introduction of extended working hours, compensating health workers between Nu 1,000 and Nu 1,500 for the additional time.

By addressing these challenges, the government aims to stabilize the healthcare sector and ensure adequate medical care for its citizens.

By Sherab Dorji, Thimphu