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President promises to improve nurses' working conditions

2012/05/05 20:19:22

Taipei, May 5 (CNA) President Ma Ying-jeou promised Saturday to improve the working conditions for nurses, amid heated accusations that hospitals are exploiting nurses by forcing them to work overtime.

“I will keep my word,” Ma said during a ceremony held to promote 10 distinguished nurses ahead of International Nurses Day, which falls on May 12.

Acknowledging that there is immediate need for nursing reforms, Ma said his administration has been working hard to increase licensed nursing staffnumbers by about 1,800 nationwide to bring the nurse-patient ratio down to 1:3.

More specific reform guidelines, including how to decrease overall workloads on nursing staff, will be published May 10, he said.

“We have decided to instigate comprehensive reforms to restore nurses’ passion and trust,” said Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta, as he compared the country's nurses to Florence Nightingale, the renownedselfless nurse of the Crimean War whose birthday is marked byInternational Nurses Day.

One of the nurses honored, Lee Tsun-pai, said that improvements in working conditions should also focus on the public's understanding ofnursing.

"What we nurses need is more respect," she said.

The 45-year-old has been a nurse for more than two decades, focusing on palliative care. Coming from an aboriginal background, she said people sometimes question her professionalism, stereotyping her as lazy and incapable.

Comments like these are really frustrating, especially for new nurses who are less capable of adjusting to harsh words,” she said.

Taiwan has a serious shortage of nurses, with only about 130,000practicing nurses and a turnover rate as high as 20 to 30 percent,according to media reports.

There are several reasons for this, including hospitals' deteriorating financial conditions and cost-cutting measures such as hiring fewer nurses who are made to work longer hours.

“When the young ones are ready to marry, they either get less flexible about what shifts they are prepared to work or simply leave the job,” said Wang Shu-fen, another nurse.

We would like more encouragement and fewer demands,” she said.

Last month, local nurse Maggie Lin exposed the problems faced by local medical personnel in an article posted on CNN iReport, the news network's website of user-generated content.

She said the nurse shortage in Taiwan is caused by the harsh working conditions that make the profession unattractive and not because of a low ratio of people passing the licensing exams, which is what the public has been led to believe.

The shortage has also become an excuse for hospitals to ask nurses not to take days off, Lin said, even though they are only prepared to pay a small amount of money for the extra hours worked.

Lin, who is now a member of the Taiwan Radical Nurses Union, added that some hospitals even require nurses to be on call at all times and said that those who fail to show up when called upon are considered absent from work.

(By Nancy Liu)