WITH Hongkong beset by an on-going shortage of nurses, the Government admitted yesterday that it could not account for 14,000 of the territory's 30,000 registered nurses. The chairman of the Government's Health and Medical Development Advisory Committee, Professor Natalis Yuen Chung-lau, said yesterday that only 16,000 registered nurses were known to be working for the Hospital Authority, the Hospital Services Department or government clinics. ''We do not know what the rest are doing. They may be retired. They may have become housewives, or even left Hongkong. We have no way of knowing,'' he said. ''The problem is the register is not updated. People go on it, but don't come off it.'' The committee acknowledged that this made it difficult to address the question of nursing shortages when the exact number of available staff was unknown. They suggested that registered nurses be made to get annually renewable certificates, in the same way that doctors and dentists are required to do so. Professor Yuen described the present system as ''volatile'' and said his committee would be proposing constant updates of the register and hoped to have some sort of answer from the Government by the end of the year. It was also revealed yesterday that the Hospital Authority had been unable to find a senior figure to take on overall responsibility for Hongkong's nurses. No suitable candidate had been found for the post of Senior Executive Management (Nursing) and the authority has yet to decide when the post will be advertised again. The authority has been searching for a successor since the retirement of the director, Ms Rose Chen, six months ago. The post was advertised for a trained nurse with varied experience in management. The duties would include assisting the Director of Operations in working out manpower planning, training and education, and daily operations of the profession. At a meeting last week, the 9,000-strong Association of Hongkong Nursing Staff asked the authority to launch another attempt to recruit someone for the post. The legislator for the nursing profession, Mr Michael Ho Mun-ka, was told that both local and American candidates had been rejected after final interviews. ''There is no leader to direct the reform of the nursing profession. I don't think we should wait for another year,'' Mr Ho said yesterday. He called on the authority to fill the post as soon as possible even if it meant selecting an expatriate. Dr Lai King-kwong, Senior Executive Manager (Professional Services) of the authority, said it had yet to decide when to launch the next recruitment drive. ''Last time we had some quite good candidates but they did not perfectly fit the post,'' he said. The authority was looking for both a planner and a developer, he said, adding that the authority was quite demanding. The Health and Welfare Branch has told the Legislative Council that a special working group composed of representatives from the branch, the Education and Manpower Branch and the Hospital Authority would come up with measures to tackle chronic nurse shortage and wastage.