Acute need for help in long-term care and community hospitals

The regional health system has 35 community nurses who have attended to over 7,000 patients over the past year. PHOTO: NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HEALTH SYSTEM REGIONAL HEALTH SYSTEM

SINGAPORE - As Singaporeans live longer and the rate of chronic diseases increases, the country will need more nurses who can attend to patients at home and in neighbourhoods.

That's where community nurses come in.

They provide home care services to the elderly, are deployed at nursing posts in neighbourhoods and work in community hospitals and nursing homes.

According to a 2020 paper about the challenges of nursing in Singapore, published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Oncology Nursing, the nursing shortage here is especially felt in community hospitals and long-term care facilities.

It was written by Ms Chua Gek Phin, who in 2013, as the director of nursing from the National Cancer Centre Singapore, had received the President's Award for Nurses.

Dr Catherine Koh, head of community nursing at the NUHS Regional Health System Office, said: "There is definitely a growing demand (for community nurses), but stating a number may be arbitrary now as the community nursing model is still evolving rapidly with a shift to population health."

She said the regional health system has 35 community nurses who have attended to over 7,000 patients over the past year - either in their homes or at health posts in neighbourhoods, alongside other healthcare professionals.

Ren Ci Hospital chief nurse Jenny Sim said fewer nurses, including younger ones, are opting to enter community nursing because it may seem less challenging and exciting than working in a fast-paced hospital environment.

Healthcare Services Employees' Union president K. Thanaletchimi said: "The salaries of nurses in the intermediate and long-term care sector largely run by voluntary welfare organisations are still comparatively lower than in the public healthcare sector.

"There is an apparent shortage in the number of locals joining the community care organisations, and institutions work with lean manpower."

It was announced in Parliament last year that the Government will set aside $150 million over the next three years to boost the salaries of community nurses.

Then Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor had said then that, after three years, the Health Ministry will factor in the higher salary levels in its funding to community care providers.

Mr Ardi S. Hardjoe, chief executive of Thye Hua Kwan Nursing Home, said Ang Mo Kio-Thye Hua Kwan Hospital has a 30 per cent shortfall in nurses.

And there is a shortage of 10 per cent of nurses at Thye Hua Kwan Nursing Home @ Hougang.

However, the number of community nurses has been gradually increasing over the years.

Dr Koh said more than half of the community nurses within the NUHS Regional Health System came from hospitals.

SingHealth's group chief nurse Tracy Carol Ayre said the number of community nurses in SingHealth has grown from two in 2006 to 120 this year. SingHealth plans to expand its community nursing scope to provide care in the community to mothers with young children and residents undergoing palliative care in the community.

Community Nursing Scholarship holder Kevin Cheong, 23, developed a soft spot for the elderly when he volunteered to deliver food to elderly residents during his polytechnic years.

He said: "I was struck by how happy and excited the elderly were when they received their meals. The brief interactions with them were very heartening."

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