Healthcare employers should diversify recruitment sources amid Filipino nurse permit crunch: Koh Poh Koon
SINGAPORE: Healthcare employers should diversify their recruitment sources amid issues with the supply of Filipino nurses, said Senior Minister of State for Health Koh Poh Koon in Parliament on Tuesday (Jul 27).
The Philippines, one of the world's biggest sources of nurses, reached its annual cap of 5,000 healthcare worker deployments late-May. The permits to allow healthcare workers, including nurses, to go abroad were then suspended by the Philippine government.
While the Philippines raised the annual cap last month to 6,500 following high demand, Dr Koh said that Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) is working with healthcare employers to ensure the adequacy and sustainability of the nursing workforce.
“Healthcare employers should also diversify their recruitment sources,” said Dr Koh, who is also Senior Minister of State for Manpower.
Citing a 2019 report by the Singapore Nursing Board, he said that about 7,600 – or 18 per cent – of Singapore’s nursing workforce are Filipino.
Dr Koh added that the local supply of nurses has grown. In 2020, there were about 1,400 new registrations from locals, compared to about 1,200 in 2019, he said.
He attributed the increase to “past efforts” to grow the nursing intake in Singapore's institutions of higher learning.
He was responding to a question from MP Foo Mee Har (PAP-West Coast) who asked whether MOH could quantify the current extent of Singapore’s reliance on Filipino nurses and about the impact on Singapore's healthcare system by the Philippines' suspension of permits.
Ms Foo also asked if MOH’s shift in healthcare protocols once COVID-19 is considered endemic will put more demand on nurses, and how Singapore can "ramp up" its own supply of nurses to reduce reliance on foreign nurses.
On Monday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a ministerial statement that Singapore must shift its healthcare protocols to treat COVID-19 closer to how it approaches influenza.
This includes allowing more COVID-19 cases who are vaccinated and who show mild or no symptoms to be directly admitted to community care facilities instead of going first to hospitals.
READ: More COVID-19 cases who are vaccinated may not need to be hospitalised as Singapore adjusts healthcare protocols
"I think it's important to understand the differences between acute hospital care requiring more intensive nursing care and community care that does not require the intensiveness of care monitoring," said Dr Koh.
He said that that the ministry has a “ramp up plan” for nurses to be deployed to some of the community care facilities, similar to when there were more foreign workers who were taken care of at these facilities.
He added that other than nurses and doctors who provide "more medical supervision”, there are also care providers – volunteers who are trained to use technology, such as automatic blood pressure reading machines and oximeters, to monitor cases in these facilities.
Overall, the number of nurses – about 7.5 nurses per 1,000 people in the population – is a relatively “good number” compared to other Asian economies, said Dr Koh.
"But ... as our population ages, there will be an increased demand for healthcare services and the manpower will have to increase commensurately," he added.
Dr Koh noted that to make the profession more attractive to Singaporeans, the Government has started to increase the base salary of public sector nurses and has made efforts to provide more flexible work arrangements and different career pathways.