Measures needed to ease the nursing shortage

November 03, 2022 - 08:30
Figures from the Ministry of Health estimate that around 9,680 medical workers have quit their jobs in the first six months of this year. Of them, 2,874 are nurses.
A nurse takes care of a newborn baby at a hospital in Hà Nội. Nearly 2,900 nurses have left the sector, creating a severe shortage of medical workers. — VNA/VNS Photos Tạ Nguyên

HÀ NỘI — D.T, a nurse in Hà Nội, decided to quit her job after more than ten years of working at a central hospital in the capital city.

T worked in the oncology department, which was always overcrowded with critically-ill patients. While she had gotten used to a heavy workload and high pressure at work, she couldn't stand it any longer.

"I love my job. If I quit, my colleagues will take on more of my work, even though they are already overloaded. But I have a family to raise. I can't continue with a monthly income of VNĐ8 million (US$321)," she said.

T said she once thought everything would be better. She even spent more than VNĐ30 million ($1,206), almost four months' wages, taking an advanced course to improve her professional nursing qualifications.

"Due to the limited number of nurses in the department, our shifts are always at a tight frequency. We have to do two 24-hour shifts a week. Some days, I stayed up all night and then had to take the next shift in the next morning when a colleague asked for a leave. Nursing is a strenuous job," she shared.

T said she couldn't afford her life with her current income. Many of her colleagues feel the same way but have yet to quit as they cannot find a better job.

T is just one of the thousands of nurses who have left the industry after the COVID-19 pandemic, causing a severe shortage of medical workers.

Figures from the Ministry of Health estimate that around 9,680 medical workers have quit their jobs in the first six months of this year. Of them, more than 2,870 are nurses.

In HCM City, the shortage of nurses in public hospitals is severe, as 391 nurses have quit their jobs. Complicating the situation is that the number of new recruits replacing them falls short in quantity and quality.

The number of nursing human resources in Việt Nam was already low compared to other countries.

According to the Việt Nam Nursing Association, the country has a ratio of 14 nurses per 10,000 population, and the ratio of nurses and midwives per doctor is 1.95 per 1, much lower than the world average of 4 per 1.

Việt Nam has set a target to increase the rate to 25 nurses per 10,000 population and the rate of having 3.5 nurses and midwives per doctor by 2030.

This means the country needs to double the number of existing nurses to achieve the goal.

Patients suffer most

The Việt Nam Nursing Association said the nursing force has an important contribution to the treatment process for patients in medical facilities.

The nursing staff performs up to 60-70 per cent of the work in hospitals. Medical services related to nurses accounted for the largest proportion. Nurses are those who directly and frequently contact patients during the whole process of treatment. Therefore, the shortage of nursing staff will negatively affect the quality of treatment.

"The shortage of nursing staff leads to an inadequate ability to take care of patients and increases complications of diseases and the risk of death. Patients have to wait for a long time to their turn, or they have to hire caregivers, which cost them more during their treatment," Chairman of the Việt Nam Nursing Association Phạm Đức Mục said.

He also added that some nursing staff in key departments of hospitals, such as the Emergency Department or Neonatology Department, often had to be on duty for up to 24 hours, affecting the quality of work of the nursing staff.

Health experts said it is necessary to have policies and mechanisms to attract and retain more human resources in this field.

The Ministry of Health estimates that there are 182 nursing training facilities from intermediate to university levels, of which 145 are university and college level, and 37 are intermediate level.

Nursing is a strenuous job, especially during the complicated COVID-19 pandemic situation.

However, the number of students signing up for nursing schools has decreased, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, a worrying issue for the health sector.

Intermediate nurses face difficulties in studying to upgrade their qualifications to college and university levels according to the regulations of the Ministry of Health. The annual tuition cost for bachelor's and college nursing programmes is relatively high, from VNĐ35-40 million.

Meanwhile, nursing graduates face a heavy workload, high pressure at work and a low monthly pay of between VNĐ7-8 million.

Experts predict it will remain difficult to recruit enough nurses graduating colleges and universities in the foreseeable future and advise maintaining those who have intermediate degrees in the sector.

Trần Thị Châu, deputy chairwoman of the Việt Nam Nursing Association, said that it is necessary to have a policy to support tuition fees to attract students to register for the profession or improve their skills.

At the same time, hospitals should order nursing schools to train students in line with actual needs.

Lương Ngọc Khuê, director of the ministry's Department of Medical Examination and Treatment, said the position and role of nurses in some medical units have not been given due attention and have not fully been promoted.

Phạm Thanh Bình, chairman of the Việt Nam Health Union, said occupational incentive allowances, toxic and dangerous allowances, and public service allowances are not commensurate with medical staff's working environment with high risks of infection.

The Ministry of Health has organised forums to listen to the thoughts and aspirations of medical staff, rewarded collectives and individuals with outstanding achievements in people's health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, mobilised resources of the society to provide material support to health workers and privatise medical facilities to increase income for medical staff.

It has also developed policies to attract health workers in public health facilities, especially those in remote areas, and invested in improving working conditions for medical staff.

The ministry has proposed to the Government to maximise the medical allowance and support tuition fees for students registered in nursing schools.

It is developing a project to renew nursing mechanisms and policies from 2022 to 2030 and ensure comprehensive patient care.

In HCM City, the city's health sector has introduced measures such as raising salaries for medical workers and extending the time allowed to recruit nurses, midwives and intermediate medical technicians until January 1 and extending the time limit for standardising the qualifications of those who have been recruited at the intermediate level until December 31, 2030. — VNS