Ensure guidelines on adequate rest for nurses are followed: Louis Ng

MOH and public healthcare clusters have always been concerned about the well-being of nurses and other staff groups. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - With more nurses resigning, there is a need to ensure local nurses are given enough rest, said Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) on Tuesday (Aug 2).

He was addressing Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam in Parliament, following her statement on nurse welfare, attrition and salaries.

In response, Ms Rahayu said the Ministry of Health (MOH) is rolling out ways to ensure that nurses, who are working in a challenging environment, have adequate rest.

During her speech earlier, she said the attrition rate for both local and foreign nurses in public hospitals had hit a five-year high in 2021, with a rate of 7.4 per cent and 14.8 per cent respectively.

She added duty rosters for nurses are planned in advance to ensure staff have adequate rest between shifts.

Mr Ng asked Ms Rahayu to clarify what it means for a nurse to have adequate rest.

He said: "A lot of nurses are sharing they sometimes end the shift at 9pm or 10pm, and then they are back at work at 7am. And that really is insufficient rest for many of them."

Ms Rahayu replied that different healthcare clusters have different arrangements to ensure adequate rest for their nurses.

These include being given rest time during their shifts, or guidelines stating nurses should not work beyond a certain number of consecutive days.

She added: "The reality on the ground is there are many challenges and these nurses work very hard.

"There are realities of their workplaces that require them to actually go beyond their call of duty. We really appreciate that and we know it's been challenging."

Mr Ng later replied: "A lot of the foreign nurses are leaving, and that really puts a stress on the local nurses...

"We can rely on their passion, they're very passionate about (their jobs), but I think they're really urging for some protection, especially of their rest time...

"I ask whether MOH can at least ensure the guidelines on adequate rest for nurses are being adhered to at this point."

Ms Rahayu responded by highlighting the internal cross-cluster Staff Well-being Committee, which was formed in 2019 for healthcare clusters to share best practices with each other and provide feedback to MOH on how staff well-being could be improved.

She said the committee had raised the issue of sufficient rest for nurses, and MOH is in the midst of rolling out some of its recommendations.

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Mr Ng also asked if the National Wellness Committee for Junior Doctors could look into the working hours and conditions of nurses.

In response, Ms Rahayu said this committee was formed to specifically address issues related to junior doctors, which need to be tackled differently because of the doctors' regular rotations across the public healthcare system, compared with other staff groups who are employed directly by the respective public healthcare clusters.

Citing several measures that have been taken, she highlighted that MOH and public healthcare clusters have always been concerned about the well-being of nurses and other staff groups.

As the pandemic eases, public healthcare institutions have been allowing nurses to take time off work to rest and recover, and foreign nurses to return home to spend time with their loved ones, she added.

In addition to the measures taken by MOH and the public healthcare institutions, Ms Rahayu said that patients' families also have a part to play in working together with the healthcare system to care for their loved ones who are ill.

Without going into details, she said: "There's a certain expectation of what nurses are expected to do in hospitals. This does not help in terms of adding to their workloads. The culture may be different elsewhere, and we may want to educate and look into this matter."

She also said a task force is looking at tackling the abuse of healthcare workers.

Ms Rahayu added: "Give us some time to roll out some of the recommendations that have been put up, (and) hopefully through all these efforts we're putting up, there's improvement."

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