Forum: Healthcare workers need more rest and longer training programme

There are many job opportunities in the healthcare industry (Close to 5,500 jobs on offer in Singapore's healthcare sector, Dec 11), but the real challenge is how to retain these workers, given the impact of age-old practices in the hospital environment.

In one hospital, for example, healthcare workers end their afternoon shift at 10pm and very often have to report for duty the next morning at 7am. Taking into consideration commuting time, they may not be able to get enough sleep.

In the long run, it takes a toll on their bodies and will affect how they discharge their duties, bearing in mind that a hospital cannot allow mistakes to occur, especially when dispensing medication to patients. There is an urgent need to change the shift hours by, for example, starting the afternoon shift earlier.

In one hospital, the personal care assistants (PCAs) went through a 20-day programme, which is barely sufficient to get them skilled enough to work in the wards.

Assisting in basic care activities is complex as they need to know how to monitor vital signs that warrant immediate attention. They also need to understand the behaviour of elderly patients who are emotionally vulnerable, especially those diagnosed with dementia.

If registered nurses need to be enrolled in a two-year programme, I feel that PCAs should have at least six months of training.

Also, senior nurses in the ward could provide a conducive environment for new hires. The model of mentorship should change.

Many senior nurses seem to be more focused on "commanding" newbies to do the right thing in the rush to make every PCA as competent as a qualified nurse, which takes time, particularly given the short learning runway they went through.

The nurses could instead place more emphasis on sharing their knowledge and experience.

The object, after all, is not to make a PCA feel good or to make him feel bad. It is to encourage him to do better.

Richard Thong Kok Mun

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