Nurses urge more details of moves to ease shortages

NURSES are demanding more details of Hospital Authority measures designed to end nursing shortages before they agree to call off their planned industrial action.

The package to recruit nurses and improve working conditions, unveiled on Friday, met with a positive response from the 11,000-strong Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff.

But although the union described the package as ''a good start'', vice-chairman Anders Yuen Chi-man demanded clarification.

Mr Yuen said: ''The announcement goes some way in addressing the short-term issues and on this basis we should be able to work out a long-term strategy.'' Union leaders will meet authority chief executive Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong tomorrow to clarify parts of the announcement and seek a consensus on long-term plans.

Mr Yuen added: ''I am optimistic about the outcome and if things go smoothly we will probably call off the industrial action.'' Nurses have staged a 10-day ''broken heart'' badge campaign. They were planning a poster campaign as the second phase of industrial action, which was due to start on May 12.

The authority package included plans to recruit 2,300 to 2,400 nurses by the end of this financial year.

But the announcement did not say whether they would be student nurses or trained nurses or both.

Mr Yuen said: ''It may be possible to recruit that many student nurses, but I don't think it would be possible for them to recruit that number of registered nurses.'' The package also offered between $4,160 per month and $5,550 per month, depending on rank, to nurses who opted to work continuous night shifts for one month or more.

But the union is keen to know how the scheme will operate, including details of hours, calculation of leave, and whether the offer will be extended to all hospitals and all wards.

Mr Yuen said: ''The scheme may be attractive to nurses on infirmary and convalescence wards but not to nurses on acute and admission, which are much busier.

''The allowances represent only about 20 per cent of salaries, which does not compare favourably to other professions or nurses overseas where the allowance for continuous night shifts is about a third of their salary.

''But at least the [authority] recognises that an allowance is necessary to attract nurses to do permanent night shifts, which is a good start.'' A proposal to increase the teacher/student ratio to 1:25 was also a necessary and basic requirement.

Mr Yuen said: ''This step has to be taken to comply with the [authority's] own requirements as the Nursing Board will no longer license courses which do not have this teacher/student ratio.''