I found the discussion between MP Louis Ng and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam in Parliament on Sept 12 interesting.
Mr Ng asked about the workload of nurses, citing accounts from those who have approached him that most of them are looking after far more than four or five patients each - more than the one-to-four nurse-to-patient ratio officially cited in Parliament (Resignation rates of nurses in public hospitals at a five-year high in 2021, Aug 2).
In response to Mr Ng's call for the Ministry of Health to review how hospitals roster staff, Ms Rahayu said that the current situation is a "pandemic situation", that the issue of workload should be for the hospitals to manage, and that "we not only have to ensure nurses are taken care of, but we also have to ensure that patients are taken care of".
I have friends in the healthcare sector - both front-line professionals and student interns - who tell me that the patient load in public hospitals today is not so much a reflection of a Covid-19-related surge, but rather, simply the expected patient load of an ageing population.
Healthcare workers I know are having difficulty discharging patients from the general hospitals because other care facilities such as community hospitals and nursing homes are equally stretched.
This leaves the patient numbers in acute hospitals high, and not in a way that is specific to the pandemic.
With an ageing population, the demands on the healthcare system may only increase in the years to come.
Ms Rahayu's comment in response to Mr Ng also seems to imply that the needs of patients and healthcare workers are competing against each other.
But isn't a doctor or nurse who is better rested, both physically and mentally, better able to look after his patients? Isn't a patient who is satisfied with the care he receives also a source of satisfaction for healthcare workers?
Ultimately, the healthcare system's manpower issues might be more systemic.
Can more resources be given to hospitals so that they can make better choices for their workers, and by extension, for patients?
Eileen Isabel Ang