Updated at 6.48pm: There were currently over 70 nurses working for the Department of Health on a contract basis and the department expected to recruit 32 nurses in the next three years, Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said on Wednesday. Dr Chow was responding to a question in the Legislative Council on Wednesday afternoon from lawmaker Joseph Lee Kok-long. Mr Lee, who represents the health services sector, requested statistics on nurse appointments and vacancies in the Department of Health. The issue is an important one in Hong Kong because in recent years there has been a shortage of sufficient qualified nurses in the welfare sector. There, nurses are needed to work in the homes of the elderly, in child-care and rehabilitation centres - as well as in private care homes. Citing the latest statistics, Dr Chow said: 'As at April 1, this year, the Department of Health employs 73 contract nurses, whose contract periods do not exceed 24 months. Their monthly salaries are between $17,145 and $22,990.' He said the salaries were 'in line with the market salary levels'. Dr Chow also noted that the Department of Health expected to hire 32 nurses in the next three years as permanent civil service nurses. 'The expected vacancies are due to natural wastage in the next three years,' he said, 'as well s to meet the need of short term projects.'