A move to narrow the pay gap between public- and private-sector nurses might not stem the flow to private institutions, going by the views of nurses interviewed by The Straits Times.
Asked about government plans announced this week to raise the pay of public-sector nurses, eight nurses who left public institutions for private ones said pay was not the only push factor: A less harried work environment was also a key factor.
One nurse who declined to be named said it was "very hectic" in a public hospital where she worked for about a year. "Frankly, sometimes I didn't even have the time to think about what I was doing," she said.
The 27-year-old switched to a private hospital about two years ago. She said: "Here, you have more time to really talk to your patients and educate them about post-discharge care. But working in a public hospital is good for exposure to different things."
Another nurse said she left the public sector after eight years as she was "burnt out" and dreaded going to work each day.
The 30-year-old said she found private-sector life less hurried. "Over all, I'm quite happy with my work-life balance now."
Nurse educator Fiona Tan, 29, moved to Mount Elizabeth Hospital after six years in a public health-care institution.
"I wasn't sure if I would like it better at first," she said. "But nurses here are able to develop more critical thinking skills... and are given more autonomy."
There are 36,000 nurses here, with about a third, or 13,000, in the private sector.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced pay hikes of 5 per cent to 20 per cent over the next two years to retain nurses and attract fresh blood.
Benefits like better career development and greater autonomy are also on the cards for nurses in public health-care and MOH-supported intermediate and long-term care institutions.
Currently, the starting pay for enrolled nurses - the lowest tier - is about $1,975 a month in public health-care institutions. Registered nurses with diploma qualifications earn about $2,500.
"With the competition for experienced health-care professionals among the public and private health-care players, staff movement between these two sectors is inevitable," said Ms Elaine Ng, group director of nursing at Parkway Pantai, which runs several private hospitals, including Gleneagles and Mount Elizabeth.
Offering competitive salaries is "only one of the ways" the group attracts and retains staff, she said. It also runs Parkway College, which offers advanced diplomas in specific areas of nursing, such as critical care.
Meanwhile, private home- care operators like Comfort Keepers said they would not be affected by the changes as they complement, rather than compete with, the public health-care sector.
The group, which has four outlets, employs some 150 caregivers, of whom only about 15 are registered nurses. Its business development executive Sally Benjamin said many of its nurses are retired and work flexi-hours.
"They don't like to do shift work, so they are quite happy here," she said.