Taipei, May 1 (CNA) A national consultation meeting will be held May 6 to help improve the working conditions for nurses, the Department of Health said Tuesday, amid accusations that hospitals are exploiting nurses by forcing them to work overtime.
The one-day meeting will address core issues such as the elimination of excessive administrative work, the restructuring of pay rates and the recruitment of new nursing staff, Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said in a press conference.
Suggestions made by scholars, employers and union members over the last several weeks will be also be adopted and possibly included in a reform plan that will be published May 9, he said.
"We are looking for as much input into the problem as possible," Chiu said, noting that nursing reform is an issue that requires immediate attention.
Chiu, a former superintendent of Taipei Medical University Hospital, said he understands the difficulty of conducting reforms, but added that NT$2 billion (US$62.5 million) has been allocated to improve the working conditions for nurses.
"It's time we instigated comprehensive reforms," said Teng Su-wen, director of the health department's Bureau of Nursing and Health Services Development.
Medical workers' groups have been protesting recently against the deteriorating work environment in hospitals, dubbing certain healthcare institutes "sweatshops" that employ far too few nurses, who are expected to endure long hours of work.
Last month, Maggie Lin, a local nurse, exposed the problems faced by medical personnel when she posted an article 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 preparatory group for 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)