New government must be proactive in health care planning

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 2:29am


In recent years, many health care reform proposals have been initiated to address the current and foreseeable problems in Hong Kong.

We should expect officials in the new government to bring in fresh ideas to optimise the sustainability in the long run of our health care system.

While the health care service provision in Hong Kong has a high rating internationally, there is still room for improvement, especially regarding the shortage of doctors and nurses, a root cause of many medical blunders. The new government's stand - on promoting public-private partnership, enhancing primary care services and cutting waiting times in public hospitals - is appropriate. Its emphasis on health care manpower planning is particularly important, as the shortage can only be eliminated by an overall review of the needs of staff.

In 2010-11, the turnover rate of nurses in public hospitals was 5.3 per cent and most were experienced nurses. The Hospital Authority has responded by increasing nurse recruitment.

However, new recruits may not have enough experience to immediately and fully take up job duties. Even worse, according to Hospital Authority statistics, more than 2,500 nurses will reach retirement age in 10 years. I expect the new administration to do more to retain people, such as improving nurses' working conditions, remuneration packages and career development opportunities, setting a nurse-to-patient ratio, increasing quotas for specialty training and extending study leave.

Nursing is moving towards specialisation and the scope of the services provided is rapidly expanding. Therefore, the educational preparation of nurses is as important as retaining them. Many international studies have found that entry preparation for registered nurses at degree level benefits patients. A large-scale study, covering more than 200,000 patients in 168 hospitals in the US, indicated that each 10 per cent increase in the proportion of nurses holding a bachelor's degree is associated with a 5 per cent decrease in patient mortality. Locally, we also need such research to support our development of quality nursing education and services.

The new administration must be proactive in health care manpower planning to secure a stable and well-prepared workforce, which will enhance sustainability in health care and provide Hong Kong people with the excellent services that they deserve.

Diana Lee, chair professor of nursing and director, Nethersole School of Nursing, Chinese University of Hong Kong