Well-trained health care assistants are sharing the workload of nurses in public renal dialysis centres as the number of patients rises, the Hospital Authority says. Hong Kong's first pilot scheme for health care assistants in renal dialysis centres was launched at Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital to relieve frontline nurses' workloads as the number of patients with late-phase renal failure had nearly doubled in the past decade. Alex Yu Wai-Yin, chief of renal services at the hospital, said the number of patients suffering from end-stage renal failure rose from 3,500 in 1996 to 6,800 last year. Of them, 700 required haemodialysis at hospitals. Haemodialysis is a method for removing waste products such as potassium and urea from the blood when the kidneys become incapable of doing it. The authority started training health care assistants to help nurses in haemodialysis in 2002. After five weeks of training, the assistants were able to help set up haemodialysis machines and monitor patients' conditions. The number of trained assistants jumped from seven in 2002 to 30 last year. They now work in 12 haemodialysis units under the authority. Dr Yu said the idea was inspired by his experiences while working in the United States for more than a decade. 'The US hospitals started employing a dialysis assistant to ease the nurses' burden in 1985. I hope this scheme can help the development of Hong Kong's renal unit.' However, lawmaker Joseph Lee Kok-long, who represents the health services sector, criticised the scheme, saying it had compromised the quality of health care services. 'The process of dialysis is complicated. Can non-professional staff handle this job after a few weeks of training? This is totally putting patients' safety at risk.' To resolve the problem of the nurse shortage, Dr Lee suggested the authority outsource professional services and centralise the workforce. He suggested that better employment packages be offered to retain professionals in specialised services.