A new proposal to suspend recruitment for 10 nursing schools run by the Hospital Authority has angered nurses who are already facing a manpower shortage. The move to stop accepting new students at 10 out of 11 public nursing schools for two years starting next month was necessary to avoid a surplus, according to the authority's senior executive manager for nursing, Susie Lum Shun-sui. Only one school, run by Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Polytechnic University (PolyU), will continue to accept new recruits this year. Natural wastage had dropped from 13.3 per cent a year in 1994 to the current 3.3 per cent, Ms Lum said, and three universities now offered nursing degrees. She said services for the community would not be affected, as more than 800 nurses would graduate from the schools each year. She hoped the Government would increase the number of nursing degree places at the three universities from the present 200 to 600. The authority said the move would undergo continuous monitoring in the next few years and they would adjust numbers according to demand. Welcoming the proposed scheme, Professor Ann Mackenzie, clinical nursing specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said nursing was no longer a vocation but a professional career encompassing caring and scientific skills. She said the move would help turn nursing into an all-graduate profession and nurses would train at universities alongside other health- care providers such as doctors, social workers and pharmacists. Associate professor of nursing and health sciences at PolyU, Dr Thomas Wong Kwok-shing, however, said instead of suspending recruitment, more nursing degrees and diploma places should be provided at universities to meet future demand. At present, he said PolyU had 50 and 120 degree and diploma places for nursing and health care, respectively. The department could train up to 750 nurses with the current manpower and teaching facilities, but called for more government resources. The University of Hong Kong said the authority had discussed details to increase the number of places for nursing degrees, and they were awaiting approval from the University Grants Committee and the Education and Manpower Bureau. However, nursing and civil services unions have blasted the move, saying it was an attempt to cover up an across-the-board budget freeze at public hospitals. Hong Kong Nurses General Union president Chan Kong- yeung said the authority had not consulted them about suspending recruitment. The union said a general freeze in April had left vacant positions unfilled and nurses were made to perform more duties. Michael Mak Kwok-fung, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, de scribed the authority's manpower planning as a mess. He said the number of nursing degree places should be agreed by the Government and the authority rather than suspending recruitment. The Hong Kong Chinese Civil Servants' Association said it would request an urgent meeting with the Health and Welfare Bureau before considering other options. It said any reform or quality improvement programme should be well-planned.