Singapore hospitals and clinics are so desperate for nurses that at least one private hospital group is offering a “finder’s fee” of SGD12,000 for staff to help recruit an experienced nurse.
Even a fresh graduate nurse joining the hospital can bring the introducer a windfall of at least SGD3,600 at the group, according to a media report on Thursday.
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the shortage of nurses, as the need for them grows even as more of them quit their jobs.
A private hospital administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity to The Straits Times, said, “Nursing is in high demand everywhere.”
“Foreign nurses use Singapore as a jumping board for better jobs in countries like Canada, since there is little chance of their getting permanent residency in Singapore. There’s no future for them here,” the administrator was quoted as saying.
Last year, for the first time in more than two decades, Singapore experienced a drop in the number of nurses working here. The situation is even worse this year.
Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary told Parliament earlier this month: “About 1,500 healthcare workers have resigned in the first half of 2021, compared to about 2,000 annually pre-pandemic.”
“Foreign healthcare workers have also resigned in bigger numbers, especially when they are unable to travel to see their families back home.
“Close to 500 foreign doctors and nurses have resigned in the first half of 2021, as compared to around 500 in the whole of 2020,” Puthucheary was quoted as saying.
Some of the healthcare workers have left because of the high stress and long hours that come with dealing with the pandemic, when manpower needs are higher and further exacerbated by reduced staff numbers.
“When there are more patients than resources, the staff is stretched paper thin,” wrote one public-sector nurse recently, headlining her post Desperate and Distraught. “And it only gets worse as the day passes.”
Some foreign nurses, who can no longer travel home for short visits to their families, have also called it a day.
“Many of our foreign staff have emigrated to another country or returned to their home towns. Local staff who left said they were burned out from the long work hours and needed a break,” said Dr Noel Yeo, chief operating officer of IHH Healthcare Singapore, which has four private hospitals here.
The attrition rate this year has been exceptionally high, he added.
“At present, we are 500 nurses and 100 patient care associates (ancillary staff to augment nursing roles) short of full strength.”
Hence, it has resorted to offering a finder’s fee to recruit more nurses. Associate Professor Yong Keng Kwang, group chief nurse of the National Healthcare Group (NHG), told The Straits Times, “The evolving COVID-19 situation is one of the main difficulties we face. A spike in cases potentially raises the demand for healthcare services and manpower, and the shortfall in manpower is acutely felt when staff resign.”
Those still in service end up shouldering the extra workload. To cope, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) says it has to close four general ward beds in order to provide the manpower needed for one intensive care unit (ICU) bed.
Prof Yong said the cluster is working with the Ministry of Health Holdings (MOHH) “to expand and diversify our recruitment options”, such as looking at non-traditional sources for nurses willing to work here. But there is a further constraint in the (recruitment) quota of foreigners allowed.
He said it typically takes about six months to train a new nurse. For speciality areas such as ICU, it can take about nine months or more. New nurses need close supervision in the initial period, so this eats into their supervisor’s work schedule.
Meanwhile, Singapore reported 2,079 new COVID-19 cases and six deaths from complications due to the coronavirus as of noon on Wednesday (November 24). The cases included 40 infections from migrant workers’ dormitories and nine who arrived here from abroad.
The fatalities were aged between 60 and 83. All of them, except for an unvaccinated case, had various underlying medical conditions, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
As of Wednesday, Singapore has reported 2,57,510 COVID-19 cases and 678 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
A total of 1,365 cases were warded in hospital, said MOH. Among them, 203 require oxygen supplementation in general wards, 34 patients were unstable and under close monitoring in the ICU, and 59 were critically ill and intubated.
As of Tuesday, 94 per cent of the eligible population, those aged 12 and above, have completed their full regimen or received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines. About 24 per cent have received their booster shots, reported Channel News Asia.