Nurses need to be involved in policy making processes, yet findings from an action research project at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) show that they lack the skills to do this.
The Chairperson of the South African Nursing Council, formerly the head of the Department of Nursing at UKZN, Prof. Busisiwe Bhengu, invited CHP researcher, Prudence Ditlopo, to give introductory lectures on policy development processes, how nurses can be involved in policy making as well as developing a policy brief. The invitation was triggered by a paper published by Prudence and her co-authors, Dr Duane Blaauw, Prof Laetitia Rispel and Ms Loveday Penn-Kekana on “Contestations and complexities of nurses’ participation in policy-making in South Africa”.
The purpose of the Durban workshop was to equip nurses with knowledge on the policy making process and cycles, to identify ways in which nurses can be involved in policy making processes, and to provide nurses with skills for designing a policy brief.
She explained that policy making is a complex process usually involving government officials, provincial and local health service managers, and representatives of professional bodies. Health policy in particular, was important because decision making involves matters of life and death. This guides choices around which health technologies to use or develop, and how to organise and finance health care, among other things. The health sector is part of the economy, and many people come into contact with the health sector.
Nurses make up the majority of the health workforce, and the health system cannot function without them. Since nurses are at the frontline of health policy reforms, such as the revitalisation of primary health care, Prudence urged the nurses to participate in health policy making. This would help to ensure that their profession was represented, and would bring nursing values to political discussions and decisions. Nurses have knowledge of how policy decisions affect real lives.
The meeting was attended by about 25 participants representing nursing academics, nurse managers and nursing unions. The lectures stimulated interesting discussions amongst participants who appeared enthusiastic about sharing the knowledge they gained with other nurses and continuing the debate of identifying strategies to improve nurses’ involvement in policy making processes.
A researcher at the Centre for Health Policy, Prudence is finalising her PhD in public health focusing on the design and implementation of incentives and their influence on the motivation and retention of health workers. She coordinates the Wits Masters of Public Health in the field of Health Systems and Policy, and is involved in teaching. She has been involved in a number of big projects on nursing, including RESON (Research on the State of Nursing) and RESYST (Resilient and Responsive Health Systems).