Nursing shortage looms at homes for the elderly

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 August, 2011, 12:00am


Public and private hospitals struggling to fill their nursing rosters have another competitor for their staff: homes for the elderly.

The homes are in the market for 1,000 nurses and say that even with a new nursing programme scheduled to be launched this year they will need at least 800. With private and public hospitals snapping up graduates, operators of homes for the elderly say they face 'immense difficulties' in recruitment.

'Many graduates prefer permanent jobs with good fringe benefits and prospects for promotion, which elderly homes may not be able to provide,' Kenneth Chan Chi-yuk, vice-president of the Elderly Services Association, said.

A new higher diploma programme may ease the shortage, but can provide only one-fifth of the manpower required. Tung Wah College will recruit 200 students to its new two-year programme; classes start in October.

Graduates can become enrolled nurses or transfer to a degree programme to become registered nurses. Total fees for the programme would be about HK$160,000, but the college said outstanding students could apply for scholarships.

College president Thomas Wong Kwok-shing, formerly chairman of the Nursing Council, said the programme would focus on providing services for homes for the elderly.

'We will arrange internships in elderly homes, although most of the training will still be done in hospitals,' he said.

Wong said 20 per cent of the programme's places would be reserved for students older than 21 who had some experience as care workers in elderly homes and a 'basic command of Chinese and English'.

Chan said that, according to the Council of Social Service, the ratio of nurses to residents in elderly homes should be one to a dozen to provide the best care. But the current ratio in most private homes was just one to 60. He said the ratio in hospitals should be about one to eight.

'The salary we offer is actually nothing less than that of public hospitals. Some larger institutions can even offer a few thousand dollars more than the Hospital Authority.'

He said elderly homes now mainly recruit retired nurses and about a quarter of their nursing staff came from public hospitals.

'Some nurses prefer flexible hours which we can provide. They can come in just three days a week, and do not need to work overnight,' he said.

According to a government code of practice, there should be one nurse for every 60 residents from 7am to 6pm daily. In the mornings, there should also be one care worker for every 20 residents and one health worker for every 30 residents.

Chan said that even if the minimum requirement were met, operators would prefer to hire nurses as they were more acceptable to family members. 'In explaining some administrative policies, family members tend to believe in professionals more than any other workers. Nurses are also more skilled in distributing drugs to residents.'

The shortage of nurses first came to light in public hospitals, with the Hospital Authority saying that it was still short of 1,000 nurses to maintain services, despite having spent HK$200 million recruiting 1,600 nurses in recent years.

Many public nurses left the authority to join private hospitals, where salaries are 30 to 50 per cent higher.


people are living in private homes for the elderly who receive government welfare, which is around three-quarters of the total