Palliative care nursing is an emerging area in the Kenya health care system and having trained health care providers is key in ensuring its success in the provision of end of life care.

Since its inception in the country, nurses have taken the lead in pain alleviation and psychosocial support to patients with life threatening illnesses in Kenya, which is a key component in palliative care provision.

Most palliative care units in the country are headed or run by a nurse, a reason why they play an important role in the provision of end of life care.

Addressing participants at the 2013 National Symposium on Leadership and Management in Nursing hosted by the Nursing Council of Kenya, the Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) Executive Director Dr Zipporah Ali said that nurses have demonstrated leadership in palliative care.

Dr Ali said the challenge in palliative care integration in Kenya is lack of trained health care workers, the reason why KEHPCA has had to train staff at hospitals intended for integration and those that have already integrated palliative.

She said that the association is advocating for the development of policy to allow nurses prescribe opioids, a role they are not currently certified to undertake besides the continued effort to further integration of palliative care into the health system.

Dr Ali said that palliative care has changed from focusing at end of life to start at diagnosis and continue incrementally as curative measures reduce.

“Most Patients in developing countries are diagnosed with cancer and other life threatening illnesses at advanced stages, hence the need to develop palliative care in such countries, Kenya included.” Dr Ali said.

She said that in most cases, only one nurse is released to a palliative care unit by the hospital administration which becomes overwhelming to attend to the patients. “When this nurse is away, the patients go unattended to.”

Dr. Ali urged the Chief Nursing Officer at the Ministry of Health to look into ways that the palliative care units in government hospitals can have more than one nurse working at the unit, thus ensuring that there is continuity of service provision at all times.

The Executive Director said that the country needs more nurses trained in palliative care to enhance end of life care and KEHPCA is advocating for this process to be owned by the government since palliative care is part of healthcare, and it is the responsibility of the government to offer this basic right to its citizens.

The Chief Nursing Officer in the Ministry of Health Mr. Chris Rakuom said that nursing has become dynamic and each one of us has a role to play in transforming its future.

Mr. Rakuom said that regulating nurses’ practice would be a challenge with the devolution system of governance but was hopeful that standards will be upheld.

He said that there are emerging trends in healthcare that we need to be embraced in nursing training though not all can fit in basic nursing training.

“Let us not overload all this emerging areas in health care at the basic level. We need to review and look at post graduate level of training to embrace some of them.” He said.

The Chief Nursing Officer added that regional and institutional vision is critical for the overall vision of the leadership in the nursing field saying that all those involved have to be innovative.

The objectives of the symposium were to further the standards of education and regulation in nursing in Kenya and to discuss new developments in nursing among others.