Emergency room medical staff work at a public hospital in Hong Kong, China, Feb 18, 2022. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
The Hong Kong government is considering revising the law to allow non-locally-trained nurses to practice in the city as a way to address the severe shortage of nurses in the public healthcare system and social welfare sectors.
For non-locally-trained nurses to qualify to work in the much-strained public healthcare institutions, such as labs run by Department of Health and hospitals and clinics managed by the Hospital Authority, they would have to undergo “special registration/enrolment”.
Currently, non-locally-trained nurses who want to fully register in Hong Kong must complete a pre-registration/-enrolment nursing program, possesses a valid certificate issued by a body recognized by the Nursing Council of Hong Kong (NCHK) and pass the licensing examination administered by the NCHK
They would become fully registered and would be exempted from taking the licensing exam if they perform satisfactorily during their full-time service period in public healthcare institutions, according to the proposal to be discussed in the Legislative Council Panel on Health Service on Friday.
The licensing exam is a compulsory requirement for non-locally-trained nurses' registration.
The proposal is for non-locally-trained nurses, whether Hong Kong permanent residents or not, to be admitted to work in qualified nurse training schools, residential care homes, nursing homes, and social welfare services via limited registration.
In addition, the proposal also seeks to establish a temporary registration system to allow nurses from other jurisdictions to perform academic exchanges and clinical demonstrations in Hong Kong for a short period of time.
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Grace Li Fai, a member of the city’s Elderly Commission, said on Thursday on a radio program that the wider adoption of non-locally-trained nurses can alleviate pressure on the public medical sector as well as help meet the medical requirements of the elderly in care homes.
She also suggested the government should help health workers become nurses for care homes to relieve the manpower shortage within the profession.
Currently, non-locally-trained nurses who want to fully register in Hong Kong must complete a pre-registration/-enrolment nursing program, possesses a valid certificate issued by a body recognized by the Nursing Council of Hong Kong (NCHK) and pass the licensing examination administered by the NCHK.
Hong Kong had 2,247 newly registered nurses in 2021. However, the number of non-locally-trained professionals remains low for registration, with only two to 25 non-locally-trained nurses recorded annually between 2018 and 2022, even though the licensing exam has been held twice a year since 2016.
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The paper, “Proposed Amendments to the Nurses Registration Ordinance”, said the proposed legal changes are aimed at addressing the city's acute shortage of nurses and enhancing the professional development of nurses.
Hong Kong had 66,492 registered and enrolled nurses as of the end of 2022. A review in 2017 showed that the nursing workforce has been aging, with over 30 percent of nurses already aged 50 or above. Meanwhile, over the past two years, the public healthcare sector has been facing a brain drain, with the attrition rates of registered nurses and enrolled nurses reaching 11.2 percent and 14.8 percent respectively in the Department of Health, and 9.1 percent and 12.8 percent in the Hospital Authority, according to the document.
In 2020, the University of Hong Kong projected that the shortage in Hospital Authority general nurses would reach 3,020 in 2030 and 4,480 in 2040.
The social welfare sector also faces challenges in recruiting and retaining nursing professionals, the proposal said.
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However, as the bedrock of the city's healthcare workforce, local nursing manpower has met its training cap, and the profession is having difficulties coping with current needs.
The Health Bureau said it is necessary to provide new pathways for admission of qualified non-locally-trained nurses. The government aims to submit a draft of the amendments to the Ordinance in mid-2023.
The government is also looking at different options to boost manpower, including requiring qualified healthcare professionals to serve in public healthcare institutions for a specified period of time.