About 30 public hospital nurses protested over manpower shortages outside the Hospital Authority's headquarters yesterday, but management said the problem would be solved in a few years as more nurses graduated. The authority would spend an extra HK$100 million to recruit 800 nurses this year, of which 300 were new positions, authority chairman Anthony Wu Ting-yuk said. One senior nurse with 20 years of experience said he needed to take care of 25 to 30 patients a day, while the international standard was four to six. 'It is easy to make mistakes, especially when some colleagues call in sick,' said Ho Hung-kwun, a nursing officer in Queen Mary Hospital's surgery department. 'We can mix up drugs easily.' He said that in the emergency room it was common to encounter a patient who had breathing difficulty and another who was bleeding severely, and experience was essential in determining who to help first. But many senior nurses in public hospitals were leaving because private hospitals offered a much better salary, he said. A nurse in a private facility can earn HK$5,000 more a month than one in the public system. A recent survey by the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff found that the nurse-to-patient ratio in maternity wards and operating theatres was, at one to 10, the worst of all wards in authority hospitals. While international standards called for one nurse for one patient in intensive care, an authority nurse needed to take care of two, the association said. But authority chief executive Shane Solomon said after a board meeting yesterday that the picture was not as bad as the association painted. In a normal ward during daytime, a nurse only needed to take care of five to six patients, he said. 'Of course there are some wards which do not achieve this ratio and we are very concerned. We will try our best to recruit more people.' About 1,000 nursing students would graduate each year following the reopening of nursing schools, Solomon said. Of the 879 nurses recruited last year, 69 per cent were fresh graduates, authority chief manager of nursing Sylvia Fung Yuk-kuen said. Association chairman Dr Joseph Lee Kok-lung said it was important to retain senior nurses because they had experience a fresh graduate lacked.