The perpetual nursing shortage poses a critical challenge in our healthcare system, especially in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A report by the World Health Organisation last year stated that nearly six million additional nurses are needed worldwide.
Having been both a patient and a caregiver, I believe the burden from a shortage of nurses can be eased in some way if family members can help out in the ward.
I have often seen family members, including domestic helpers, spending long hours in the ward to keep their loved ones company. It is also not uncommon for some of them to stay overnight as their presence is a source of comfort to the patients.
When my late dad was hospitalised, the family took turns to stay with him, even overnight. Our presence provided him with much support. Being able to be physically there for him and monitor his well-being gave us much needed peace of mind, too.
Hospitals could invite and empower family members to take an active role in the delivery of care to their loved ones in the ward. Train a few caregivers per patient to be involved in assisting the patient with moving around the hospital safely, showering, changing and feeding, and taking note of new medications, among other things.
The role of patients' family members in hospital care is significant. Their participation can be effective if they are adequately informed about the patient's condition and appropriately educated by medical staff to provide their loved ones with effective psychological and emotional support. It would help, too, if hospitals could provide family caregivers with rest areas.
Making them critical partners in inpatient care will in the long run also alleviate an increasingly overwhelmed healthcare system exacerbated by a shortage of nurses and a fast-ageing population.
Julia Ng Gek Huang