From April 16, senior and experienced clinical nurses will be able to assess and refer patients for subsidised community rehabilitation at a hospital or home - a job only doctors could previously do.
This group of advanced practice nurses will soon be able to also prescribe medicine as part of a team led by a doctor. There are now 197 such nurses in Singapore, out of a total pool of 40,651.
The move is part of efforts to have nurses play a bigger part in healthcare, especially with an ageing population and more patients suffering from chronic diseases, said Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor yesterday.
By 2030, the number of Singaporeans aged 65 and above is projected to double to 900,000.
Speaking at the SingHealth Nursing Conference at Singapore General Hospital, Dr Khor outlined how the nursing sector will be transformed along three key thrusts: focusing on patient care, strengthening community nursing and developing their competencies.
She noted that many nurses are bogged down by work that does not involve direct patient care, such as documentation and topping up supplies. "Nurses should not be drawn away from caring for patients, who should be their primary focus," she said. "This may also erode their desire to remain in the nursing profession for the long term."
PATIENTS COME FIRST
Nurses should not be drawn away from caring for patients, who should be their primary focus. This may also erode their desire to remain in the nursing profession for the long term.
DR AMY KHOR, Minister of State for Health.
To tackle this, Dr Khor said efforts are being made to tap technology and automation, as well as to redesign nurses' work, so they could do less manual tasks such as keying patients' vital signs into the computer system. More support care staff are also being hired and trained to help nurses with basic patient care, freeing the nurses for more complex work, she added.
Meanwhile, allowing advanced practice nurses to prescribe medicine alongside doctors will bring more convenience to patients, said Ms Julia Eng, deputy director of nursing at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.
"This announcement is exciting as it not only recognises the work of advanced practice nurses but also makes our jobs more efficient," said Ms Eng, who is herself an advanced practice nurse.
"It also saves patients visits to specialist outpatient clinics at the hospitals for assessment by doctors, facilitating quicker transitions."
To augment nurses' skills, more on-the-job and speciality clinical skills training will be provided, said Dr Khor. One example is a new part-time and modular graduate diploma to be offered by the National University of Singapore in August.
Community nursing will also play a bigger role. For instance, community nurse posts have been set up since December, in which nurses are attached to seniors' activity centres, residents' committee centres and community centres.
The newest additions are 30 nurses from SGH and Changi General Hospital. So far, they have attended to more than 260 elderly residents suffering from chronic diseases in the east and south-east regions of Singapore, such as Bukit Merah, Katong and Tampines.
Mr Bidin Salim, 79, no longer has to walk 30 minutes to Bukit Merah Polyclinic as he can seek advice at the community nursing post at a seniors' activity centre a stone's throw away from his home.
"The NTUC Health SilverACE centre is only a 10-minute walk away," said Mr Bidin, who suffers from chronic illnesses like high cholesterol and hypertension.
"It is so much more convenient to have a medical check-up with the nurses at the centre than at the polyclinic," he added.