Having more beds will not solve problems in Hong Kong’s public hospitals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 4:29pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 April, 2016, 4:29pm

Public hospitals are always overcrowded, with long queues and high occupancy rates, especially at the height of the winter flu season.

In the policy address in January, the chief executive announced the provision of about 230 additional public hospital beds this year. He also outlined a 10-year blueprint for hospital development, indicating that over 5,000 additional public hospital beds will be provided.

Having more beds can address the current critical situation as well as support health-care development. But having the hardware is not enough. Adequate manpower is the key. We need sufficient nurses, who provide direct bedside and holistic care to patients round the clock.

The nurse to patient ratio is 1:12 in public hospitals, compared with the international standard of 1:6. This severe shortage of nursing manpower has put tremendous pressure on frontline nurses, and it must negatively affect service quality. Immediate measures should be taken, such as hiring more part-time nurses. In tandem with this, university nursing education which provides more high-quality nurses should be expanded.

There are currently insufficient publicly-funded nursing degree places. For instance, the Chinese University of Hong Kong attracts over 6,000 high-calibre applicants for its bachelor of nursing programme every year, but can only admit around 200 students due to a quota limit, a quota that has been frozen for more than a decade.

Any increased funding for universities has to go through complicated procedures in the University Grants Committee (UGC). We propose a flexible and innovative government-funding model to allocate ad hoc one-off additional funding to UGC-funded universities to increase publicly-funded degree places for nursing education, according to manpower needs. This would be a quick fix for the long-standing problem of the nursing manpower shortage.

Nursing education and nursing quality are inter-related. Strong professional knowledge, skill competency, health-care decision-making and clinical reasoning are vital learning outcomes of a university nursing education and key attributes for good quality nursing practice. Moreover, UGC-funded university education provides more than subject knowledge – it also holistically develops a person’s generic capabilities, such as critical thinking, self-managed learning, adaptability and teamwork, in a conducive and resourceful learning environment.

For a world-class city like Hong Kong, people here deserve quality care, for which a well-prepared nursing workforce, both in quantity and quality, is indispensible.

Professor Chair Sek-ying, director, Professor Carmen Chan, vice-director of education, Professor Doris Yu, vice-director of research, Nethersole School of Nursing, Chinese University of Hong Kong