Nursing recruits need smooth path
It says something about undermanned and overworked staff and long queues for treatment in our public hospitals that the Hospital Authority is now looking to hire both doctors and nurses from overseas without requiring them to sit local licensing examinations. In the case of doctors, the authority only wants to hire about 20 - preferably Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong people trained overseas. But even that has run into so much opposition from within the profession that it is far from certain that the Medical Council will co-operate in registering applicants. Opponents argue that bypassing the examination will undermine quality of care and put patients at risk. They answer claims of protectionism by pointing out that it is a free market in which any doctor can sit for the examination. This ignores the fact that the profession controls the registration authority.
Hopefully the proposal to hire overseas nurses will have a smoother passage. The authority is short of 1,000 nurses needed to maintain services. The result is a high nurse-to-patient ratio that is not healthy for either. Health minister York Chow Yat-ngok says the Nursing Council will be asked to allow qualified overseas nurses to work here before passing examinations. Given that the dire shortage did not happen overnight, it is disappointing that the council's licensing committee is apparently ill-prepared for such an initiative and has only just begun working out who would qualify for what posts.
Nursing is a mobile profession, with strong competition for well- qualified, experienced people. The Nursing Council is right to uphold professional standards, but wrong not to be more proactive and flexible in meeting manpower needs. That said, overseas recruitment is only a supporting measure to meet increasing demand for medical care from an ageing population. Two thousand nurses are expected to graduate next year compared with 1,000 in recent years. The government needs to see that more training places continue to be provided. And the authority needs to see that nurses are given more opportunities for promotion to stem losses to the private sector and overseas.