Shortage of nurses hits transplant service

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am

A serious nursing shortage at public hospitals is putting the lives of bloodcancer patients at risk, prompting the Hospital Authority to consider urgent measures to cope.

The waiting time for a bone marrow transplant at Queen Mary Hospital, the main centre for the procedure in Hong Kong, has doubled from two months to four since late last year.

The hospital was failing to cope with a surge in demand because of a shortgage of nurses, its head of bone marrow transplants, Professor Raymond Liang Hin-suen, said.

Liang said more Hong Kong leukaemia patients were finding bone marrow matches since the city linked up with blood banks on the mainland and in Taiwan three years ago.

The successful search rate has jumped sharply from 50 per cent to 80 per cent since the cross-border links became more active last year. The city's bone marrow bank has only 60,000 potential donors, a small pool compared with the mainland's one million and Taiwan's 300,000.

The Hospital Authority said it was 'fully aware' of the situation and would get three other public hospitals to share the work to cut the wait.

Liang, also chief of haematology and oncology at the University of Hong Kong, said cancer patients needed chemotherapy for about six months before a transplant.

'In the past, there were 10 to 20 patients on the waiting list [for bone marrow transplants] at one time,' he said. 'The number has jumped to more than 30 in the past six months. Our unit has seven doctors, enough to deal with the extra workload, but the biggest problem is that we don't have enough nurses to take care of the patients after a transplant.'

Patients needed to stay in hospital for six to eight weeks after a transplant. 'We need one nurse for every two patients, who are weak after the transplant,' he said.

The hospital's bone marrow transplant unit has 14 beds and would need at least four more beds in the coming months to shorten the queue. The unit estimates that it will need another 10 nurses on top of the existing complement of about 30.

There is a global shortage of nurses and the authority, which has 20,000 nurses, is losing about 800 a year to the private sector and overseas. It aims to recruit more than 1,300 general nurses this financial year, but it expects fewer than 1,200 posts will be filled.

The authority, which has been short more than 100 nurses a year over the past three years, will soon set up a task force to look into the problem.

Queen Mary Hospital is the city's main centre for transplants using donated marrow and those using a patient's own marrow. Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth hospitals also perform transplants using a patient's own marrow.

The authority said it would introduce measures later this year to boost Prince of Wales' and Queen Elizabeth's capacity to do transplants using patients' marrow, and would start the service at Tuen Mun Hospital.

Queen Mary Hospital would seek to hire more nurses to support four more beds. But the authority did not provide a timetable for these measures.

'While the nursing supply has been tight in the last few years, the outlook is promising, with more graduates from nursing schools and universities joining the work force in the coming years,' a spokesman said.

Recruitment drive

There is a global shortage of nurses

The Hospital Authority, which employs about 20,000 nurses but loses about 800 a year, aims to recruit this financial year more than: 1,300