Close to 4,000 new nurses to be added to Singapore workforce by end of 2023: Ong Ye Kung
The Health Minister also gave an update on median wait times at hospital emergency departments, noting that they have dropped from around seven hours to about four hours.
SINGAPORE: Close to 4,000 new nurses will be progressively brought on board by the end of 2023 as part of the Ministry of Health's (MOH) efforts to replace those "lost" to other countries and to expand the Singapore workforce, Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung said on Monday (Nov 21).
Mr Ong said this was a "significant" number, making up about 10 per cent of the current nursing workforce. The amount is also 700 more than the number of nurses onboarded last year.
The minister was speaking at the Tan Chin Tuan Nursing Award ceremony for enrolled nurses, held at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine on Monday.
Earlier this year, Parliament heard that the attrition rate among local and foreign nurses in the public sector increased last year, compared to 2020.
Among locals, the attrition was 7.4 per cent in 2021, up from 5.4 per cent the previous year. For foreign nurses, attrition more than doubled year on year to 14.8 per cent in 2021, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam told Parliament on Aug 2.
In July, in a bid to attract and retain nursing talent, MOH announced that more than 25,000 nurses will receive a special payment of between 1.7 and 2.1 months of their base salary.
On Monday, Mr Ong said the authorities were constantly looking to lighten nurses' workload by tacking the problem of manpower shortage.
"During the pandemic, the competition for nurses by different countries has been very intense, and we lost many of our good and experienced foreign nurses," he said.
"We will need to replace the nurses we lost, and further expand our nursing workforce by building up both the local and foreign manpower pipelines."
Of the close to 4,000 new nurses expected to be onboarded next year, there will be a higher proportion of foreign to local nurses - with a ratio of about 60:40 - to make up for the slowdown in foreign nurse recruitment due to the COVID-19 border restrictions over the past two years, said Mr Ong.
Even as Singapore ramps up foreign recruitment of nurses, the "large majority" of its nursing workforce will continue to comprise locals from nursing school intakes and mid-career training programmes, he added.
BED WAITING TIMES ALMOST HALVED
In his speech, Mr Ong also gave an update on the "crowded situation" in hospitals - especially in emergency departments - which he described as a "significant burden" on healthcare workers over the past year.
Bed occupancies, emergency department attendances and bed wait times have improved with the subsiding of a COVID-19 wave caused by the Omicron subvariant XBB, the health minister said.
He said hospitals had informed him that the number of non-urgent emergency patients waiting for beds was now half of that from the peak of the XBB wave.
"The median wait times at emergency departments have fallen from about seven hours about two weeks ago, to now around four hours," said Mr Ong, adding that patients who require urgent care have always been admitted immediately.
MOH is still working to further reduce bed occupancies by expanding Transitional Care Facilities (TCF) and removing the ringfencing of beds for COVID-19 patients.
TCFs admit medically stable patients from public hospitals while they wait for their transfers to intermediate and long-term care facilities or for their discharge plans to be finalised.
On removing the practice of ringfencing beds for COVID-19 patients, Mr Ong said: "The concept of treating COVID-19 as an endemic disease should rightfully be extended to hospitals, as it is applied in the community.
"Hospitals have various precautionary and isolation measures for patients with infectious diseases, and there is no longer a need for separate premises, separate hospital wards just for COVID-19 patients," he explained.
Mr Ong said such practices add "significant work burden" to healthcare workers, and are not the best use of hospital bed resources.
"The transition will be done progressively, all our hospitals are working on it," he said. "And I hope that in time, their full impact will be felt in mitigating the crowded situation in our hospitals and especially in our emergency departments."