Nurse shortage still 'unreasonable'
Lo Wei and Emily Tsang
The shortage of public hospital nurses is still severe, with one nurse caring for 10 or 11 patients on average, a staff association survey found.
Even though this ratio is a slight improvement from last year's figure of one nurse for every 12 to 14 patients, it is still a far cry from the international standard of one nurse for four to six patients.
'Last year was extremely unreasonable. This year it's still unreasonable,' said health sector lawmaker Dr Joseph Lee Kok-long, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff. 'It's strange that the Hospital Authority has put more resources into the profession and recruited more nurses, but still there isn't much of an improvement.'
In the association's annual manpower survey, released yesterday, 84 per cent of members polled said their departments saw nurses quit or retire in the past six months.
Of these respondents, 79 per cent said the vacancies had not been filled or only partly filled. Some 2,180 nurses from the public sector were interviewed for the survey conducted from April to May.
The association called on the authority to set a standard nurse-patient ratio to ensure adequate manpower and quality service.
The Hospital Authority's chief nurse executive, Sylvia Fung Yuk-kuen, said it would not set a standard on the ratio because it did not distribute manpower according to this method.
But the authority will promote job openings more to help lower the turnover rate, as the trend is that around 80 nurses leave their jobs each month, she says.
Fung said yesterday that the authority planned to provide 20 posts for nursing consultants, 150 for advanced-practice nurses and 53 for nursing instructors this year.
In April, the authority said it would try to hire a record 2,000 nurses to ease the chronic staff shortage, an increase from 1,700 last year. Some 1,400 fresh graduates have been recruited since April, and will start working in August. Around 600 more will be recruited before the end of the year.
Further, the survey also found that 66 per cent of the nurses said not all shifts at their workplace had a senior nurse supervising junior staff. Lee said this was a risky situation because experience was important in the profession.
The staffing levels were worse in the accident and emergency unit, as where the nurse-patient ratio hit at most 1:14 during the day, and where work satisfaction was lowest.