Nurses still stressed by overwork, poll finds

Officials refuse to take carers' problems seriously: legislator

Most public hospital nurses are stressed and unhappy due to overwork, a survey has found, sparking criticism the government has done little to improve working conditions.

Eighty per cent of 1,970 public hospital nurses surveyed complained of understaffing. The Hospital Authority has 19,000 nurses.

The study, conducted from March 18 to April 13 by the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, found that in one of the worst cases, a nurse was forced to care for more than 30 patients.

'This is far beyond our previous surveys in which, during night shifts, one nurse took care of 22 patients,' said Joseph Lee Kok-long, chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff. Dr Lee said the average nurse-patient ratio was one for eight patients, which was 'undesirable'. The Open University assistant professor, who is also the legislator representing the health services sector, said the ideal ratio was one nurse to five patients.

The association has been conducting the survey twice a year over the past three years.


'The situation has not improved. What worries us is that the administration has not taken this issue seriously. It only pays lip service to [the problem],' Dr Lee said. 'The Hospital Authority employs a lot of nurses, tries to promote them and tries to rectify the situation, but actually frontline nurses are unhappy.'

On a scale of 0 to 10, nurses rated their happiness and satisfaction level at three (zero denoted unhappiness), while stress rated an eight (zero denoted no stress).

When asked what they wanted the authority to do to improve their situation, the nurses said they wanted more staff development programmes and the hiring of more nurses to reduce their workload, Dr Lee added. The association urged the government to conduct a comprehensive manpower review.

'The other thing is we demand that the administration establish a nurse-patient ratio ... so as to establish the right number of nurses to look after the right number of patients,' he said.


Dr Lee hoped that in the review, the condition of the 3,000 contract nurses, who are paid less for the same work, should also be considered.

He said the association was worried the quality of care might suffer due to the heavy workload. 'If they expand services endlessly with minimum manpower ... the quality of care might suffer even if frontline nurses work very hard,' he said.


The authority said it paid constant attention to the work pressure on nursing staff and had introduced various relief measures, such as controlling their workload and fostering better internal communication. The authority said it had employed more support staff, who had taken over some of the patient care duties from nurses, and relieved nurses of some night duties.

Additional reporting by Felix Chan