In an interview with CI News, Kata said there are a 118 registered nurses in the country including 31 in the outer islands, 76 on Rarotonga, and nine in public health.
“We still face a shortage of nurses. It’s like any other country, the critical nursing shortage is global it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s across every country that experiences the pull and push factor,” Kata said.
She said a way of tackling this global phenomenon is through retaining and recruiting our own nurses.
“But I guess it has been experiencing these push and pull factors for more than ten years, so during that time from ten years ago we try and get contractors from Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and fill in the gaps to meet the demand of our people, because we have a quality service to provide.
“When the nursing school opened in 2014-2015, although it started with 12 nursing students it was not so bad. It was a way of getting our own people to look after our people,” Kata said.
She said there are a number of contract workers in the nursing department and she acknowledges their help and support.
“They (contract workers) are still here although we are trying to phase out our contract workers from sisterly countries.
“We recruited two this year because needed them for the Pa Enua. We did not have extra staff on board for the Pa Enua.”
She said in the Pa Enua, nurses are transferred depending on the population of each island.
In Aitutaki, with a population of around 1800, there are 12 nurses, and in Atiu with a population of around 400, there are three nurses.
Kata also explained that the ministry has recruited retired nurses to return to work in the surgical, medical and outpatient departments.
Only those who are physically able to work with no chronic conditions are recruited.
She said this way retired nurses have also been able to teach younger nurses the importance of bedside manners.
“We needed older nurses that would teach our younger nursing work force bed side manners. Nurses of today have forgotten the bed side manner of saying ‘good morning’ - this is important,” she said.
Meanwhile, Kata added: “And as much as we want to recruit from other Pacific countries, we want to give the chance to our own first, see if they would love to return to their homeland and serve their people once more and their community.”
“Of course there are always other dynamics in the way with salary. We could never match with overseas salaries, but we can convince them to come home.”
“We have our diaspora team in New Zealand and if we are short they can come in and move out again. The main thing now is we are really short and we need more nurses.
“Time is changing, diseases and conditions are changing and we need people to look after our own people. What happened 10 years ago has evolved, has changed over time, we need to meet the demand of our people.”
She added that vacancies for nurses would be advertised soon and encourages Cook Islands nurses who are abroad to apply.