Budget debate: Do more for local nurses beyond raising their pay, say MPs

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that all public healthcare workers - including nurses - will get a pay rise. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Beyond raising the salaries of healthcare workers, Singapore should focus on improving their career progression and work environments, said Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC).

Wages are not the sole reason why Singaporeans are generally unwilling to enter the nursing profession, he said, noting that the country has traditionally depended heavily on foreign nurses despite sustained efforts to recruit more locals into the sector.

"Perhaps Singaporeans are deterred by long working hours, stress arising from the need to manage difficult patients and their family members and expectations, as well as potential disruptions to family life arising from irregular work shifts," he said during Wednesday's (Feb 24) debate on the Budget statement.

Mr David's comments come a week after Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that all public healthcare workers - including nurses - will get a pay rise.

More can be done, Mr David said. He suggested the Government introduce benefits such as mandatory leave and paid holidays, and shine the spotlight on enrolled nurses, who are the lowest tier in the profession and usually graduates from the Institute of Technical Education.

While there is a clear career pathway for registered nurses, this is not available to enrolled nurses, he said.

He asked the Government to consider setting up a progression ladder similar to what registered nurses have, and provide enrolled nurses with opportunities to upgrade their skills as well as scholarships for those who want to obtain higher qualifications.

The issue was also raised by Workers' Party MP Faisal Manap (Aljunied GRC), who cited a 2018 Lien Foundation report stating that the average monthly pay of Singapore nurses was $3,000. In contrast, nurses in Australia earned nearly double that at $5,780.

"If remuneration levels are not considered adequate, we face the potential of our nurses being drawn to foreign shores," he said. "This will make it even harder for us to handle the ageing population."

Mr Faisal suggested that salaries of nurses be pegged to a weighted basket of salaries paid to nurses in countries that are at a similar state of economic development as Singapore.

Alternatively, the healthcare sector could take salary scales in the uniformed services as a benchmark for nurses, he said. "Our nurses also put their lives on the line at work each day."

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