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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Protesting Hong Kong nurses demand action over staffing shortages, saying public hospitals need more staff not money

  • More than 100 members of Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff gather outside government headquarters to voice their discontent
  • Health secretary Sophia Chan shows up to speak to protesters but is booed
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2019, 6:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 January, 2019, 11:16am

Hong Kong authorities must hire more nurses to tackle an ongoing staffing crisis at public hospitals, according to the city’s largest nursing guild.

More than 100 members of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, which represents 60 per cent of the city’s 50,000 nurses, gathered outside the government headquarters on Sunday to voice their discontent at the shortage.

The nurses, as well as some doctors and former patients, brought with them black balloons to symbolise their unhappiness and stress.

Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee, who headed the University of Hong Kong’s school of nursing before joining the government in 2012, showed up at the rally to speak to protesters.

Chan pledged to ask the Hospital Authority to look into the problem. She also told the protesting nurses that starting from the end of the month, the authority’s pay for frontline medical staff working on extra shifts would be increased by 10 per cent.

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But she was booed by protesters, who said public hospitals needed more staff, not money.

A nurse, surnamed Chan, said: “Each nurse has to take care of up to 20 patients at the same time. The service quality could be affected and it could be easier for us to make mistakes.”

Another nurse, surnamed Chow, said: “Many patients need to wait even though they are asking for minor stuff such as the changing of diapers, or a cup of water.”

Nurses also said there was too much clerical or administrative work at public hospitals.

The outcry comes as the city grapples with the deadly winter flu season. Some 46 people have died since Hong Kong entered the peak flu season at the start of the month, of which 40 were older than 65. A total of 121 serious flu cases have been identified.

According to the authority, bed occupancy rates at all medical wards of public hospitals reached 105 per cent on Saturday, meaning temporary beds had to be laid along corridors or in between fixed ones.

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Sophia Chan said she noticed the authority had set aside hundreds of million of dollars to deal with the ongoing winter flu season.

“They could have done better in terms of policy implementation and communication … It’s most important for us to listen to nurses’ suggestions on what are the key areas of concern and what measures would be helpful,” she said.

The association’s chairman, lawmaker Joseph Lee Kok-long, countered that from past experience, extra payment for nurses was ineffective in solving the problem.

After the rally, the nurses marched to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s office nearby. But since there was no one there to receive their petition, they tied their black balloons on fences outside the office and ended their protest.

In a statement, the authority responded that it was fully aware of the tremendous workload faced by frontline staff and was committed to supporting them by every possible means.

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In 2018-19, the authority added 574 beds and allocated HK$520 million (US$66.7 million) for public hospitals to prepare for the increase in workload.

Although 1,400 nurses were leaving the authority, it would recruit 2,230 nurses in the 2018-19 year, resulting in a net increase of 830. Public hospitals have also hired about 800 part-time and temporary nurses to alleviate the workload of frontline staff during the winter surge, it added.