Carrying red balloons with two Chinese characters for 'morale', about 100 nurses marched to the Central Government Offices yesterday to press the government to improve staff morale at public hospitals. With banners reading 'burden is heavy, career prospect is dim', the nurses marched from the Legislative Council chambers to hand a petition of 5,000 signatures expressing their concerns to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff chairman Joseph Lee Kok-long, who is also legislator for the health services sector, said association surveys in several public hospitals from 2003 to January this year found poor morale among nursing staff. 'Nursing morale has been always low. We found that the rate of job stress was nine out of a possible 10. Happiness was three out of 10 and job satisfaction four. These reflect the low morale of nurses,' he said. Mr Lee, a registered nurse and an assistant professor at Open University, said the Hospital Authority should improve the nurse-patient ratio, which was about one nurse per 10 to 24 patients. The international standard is one nurse per four patients. Meanwhile, three legislators yesterday warned that the shortage of doctors at New Territories West hospital cluster, especially Tuen Mun Hospital, was 'critical'. Kwok Ka-ki, of the medical sector, and the Confederation of Trade Unions legislators Leung Yiu-chung and Lee Cheuk-yan said Tuen Mun and allied hospitals had received the lowest funding from the authority in the past three years. This meant that there was only 0.52 doctors per 1,000 patients and 1.53 beds per 1,000 patients in 2005-06. The comparative figures for Hong Kong West were 0.95 doctors and 5.64 beds, Dr Kwok said. 'The median waiting time for a first appointment with one of the specialties in the cluster exceeded that of the rest of the clusters, at 44 weeks. Yet, general outpatient attendances at Tuen Mun was 707,025 in 2005-06 - 47 per cent more than the No2 in the list,' the legislators said. The situation would worsen as an extra 1,134 beds are opened this year, including 622 at Pok Oi Hospital in Yuen Long and 512 beds at the new rehabilitation block in Tuen Mun, they warned. A spokesman for the New Territories West cluster said the authority would recruit another 270 staff including doctors and nurses for the cluster of hospitals. The authority would spend HK$160 million to rebuild Pok Oi, and upgrade and renovate Tuen Mun, he added. A Hospital Authority spokesman said allocating resources did not only depend on the number of beds and staff. It also took into account the cost of new medical technology and staff training.