SINGAPORE - The aim is for Singapore to have up to 700 Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs) who are licensed to prescribe medication for patients by 2030 - a 12-fold increase from the 57 who can do so now, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said at the annual Nurses' Merit Award ceremony on Wednesday (July 7).
This year's event, held virtually, honoured 125 nurses, the highest number of recipients to date.
Those who aspire to be APNs - senior nurses who typically have a master's degree and can take on greater roles in diagnosis and treatment - will receive a boost in their training through a new internship programme and mentorship by their seniors.
The new integrated APN internship programme will help to expose the Master of Nursing graduates to their respective areas of clinical practice early, said the Ministry of Health (MOH). The internship will begin with the graduating cohort next month.
Under the new programme, the APNs-in-training will be trained to master key tasks that they can perform once sufficient competence has been demonstrated at the workplace. Assessments at work will contribute to their APN certification.
Interns who perform well can also enrol in a programme that gives them the licence to prescribe medication to patients within their scope of practice, MOH added.
As of May this year, there were 294 APNs, of whom 57 have such prescribing rights, Mr Ong said in his prerecorded speech at the award ceremony.
The Nurses' Merit Award, started in 1976, goes to those who have performed exceptionally well, participated in professional development, and contributed to improving the nursing profession. The recipients received a $1,000 cash prize and a collar badge.
To further grow the pool of APNs in Singapore, MOH has assigned 180 experienced APNs to be instructors and supervisors for the interns and students under the Master of Nursing programme, as of May.
Traditionally, APNs are mostly trained by doctors at school, said MOH.
"To further grow the APN pipeline, we cannot just rely on medical colleagues for teaching and training," said Mr Ong.
To meet the growing needs of the ageing population here, Mr Ong also announced that guidelines for geriatric nursing and palliative care nursing are in the pipeline.
These guidelines, or competency frameworks, will follow the first one, on community nursing, that was launched last year.
In Parliament in March, it was announced that nurses in the public healthcare sector will receive increases of 5 per cent to 14 per cent in their monthly base salaries from this month. The raises will be phased in over the next two years.
The National Nursing Academy was also set up last year to support continued learning for nurses.
As of April this year, 58 workplace-based and academic nursing courses open to nurses have been listed on the academy's website.
"While the nursing profession has come a long way, we are committed to continue to develop the nursing profession," said Mr Ong.
The minister also paid tribute to and thanked all nurses who were frontliners in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I believe there is renewed respect for nurses because of the crisis our nation is going through," he said.
"Many of you have been going through a lot of stress over the past 16 months, including when Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) was down with many nurses on quarantine. But nurses are resilient, and you forge on as always."
Mr Ong was referring to the TTSH cluster that started in late April and grew to 48 cases. It included healthcare workers, patients and their relatives. The hospital stopped admitting patients for two weeks to contain the cluster.
During that period, there were reports of discrimination against TTSH staff, with some of them reportedly shunned by private hire-car drivers.
Mr Ong also acknowledged that nurses have played a major role in the country's vaccination drive.
"Many of you are involved in vaccination operations, one way or another, be it in hospitals, polyclinics or vaccination centres. You have been working hard at the frontlines and I want to thank all of you for the vital role you play in keeping our loved ones and Singaporeans safe," he said.
"With all your hard work, we will once again prevail over this wave of (coronavirus) transmission."