Budget debate: Pay hikes for over 56,000 public healthcare workers from July; nurses get up to 14% more

MOH will also expand efforts to bring in mid-career joiners by increasing capacity under the professional conversion programme for healthcare professionals. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - An estimated 56,300 public healthcare workers - including nurses and support care staff - will get pay bumps over the next two years, starting in July.

Nurses will see increases of 5 to 14 per cent in their monthly base salaries, while other healthcare staff, such as allied health professionals, pharmacists and administrative and ancillary staff, will get pay rises of 3 to 7 per cent.

The Health Ministry (MOH) will also increase funding support for salaries at publicly-funded community care organisations in order to ensure that wages in this sector remain competitive. This will benefit another 20,800 staff.

In announcing the pay increases, Senior Minister of State for Health Koh Poh Koon spoke of how the Covid-19 pandemic has shown Singapore the importance of maintaining a resilient core of healthcare workers.

"Our healthcare workforce is the lifeblood of our healthcare system, and the work that they do is critical in protecting the health of our society," he added during the debate on his ministry's budget.

"We must maintain the salary competitiveness of healthcare staff against the overall market to attract and retain quality talent."

However, doctors and dentists will not be included in the pay rise as their salaries were last updated in 2019.

Senior Nurse Clinician Seri Sastika told The Straits Times: "2020 has been an extraordinary year, and with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, our mission to care for our patients has never been clearer.

"We are delighted by the thoughtful gesture, initiated by the Government," added Ms Seri, who works at the National University Hospital.

Nurses had received pay increases of between 5 per cent and 20 per cent in 2014, following recommendations by the National Nursing Taskforce.

Their pay was increased again in 2015, as part of efforts to make the profession more attractive.

Allied health professionals, pharmacists and administrative and ancillary staff last got pay rises in 2016.

The impending pay rise for public healthcare workers was first announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in last month's Budget statement.

In his speech, Mr Heng had lauded those in the industry for their hard work and dedication, and noted that the sector will grow as Singapore's population ages.

MOH will also expand efforts to bring in mid-career joiners by increasing capacity under the professional conversion programme for healthcare professionals.

This scheme has seen increased interest in recent years, with an average of 160 people enrolled each year between 2018 and 2020, Dr Koh said.

This was about double the average annual intake between 2015 and 2017.

This year, Ngee Ann Polytechnic will join Nanyang Polytechnic to offer a two-year programme for people to become registered nurses.

The ministry is also looking at how to shorten the amount of time that mid-career individuals need to spend in training.

As part of this, the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) will introduce an accelerated programme in occupational therapy.

This will allow those who already have a degree in a science-related field to complete the professional conversion programme in slightly under three years, instead of the current four years.

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Dr Koh said the pipeline of fresh nursing graduates has increased since 2012 as part of efforts to retain a strong local core of healthcare professionals. For instance, nursing intakes went up from about 1,500 in 2014 to around 2,200 last year.

His ministry is also in the process of redesigning jobs and reviewing career pathways in the healthcare sector.

Emphasising that nurses form the "backbone" of the healthcare system, Ms Seri added that branding the nursing profession as one with higher learning opportunities, and ensuring a healthy work culture that prioritises staff recognition, are some ways to increase the retention of nurses.

Dr Koh noted that healthcare is ultimately a "high-touch and people-centric" sector, with healthcare staff playing a critical role and making personal sacrifices during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"I would like to express our heartfelt thanks to them for their dedication and contributions, and their families for supporting them through this tough period," he said.

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