Taipei, May 6 (CNA) Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta said Sunday that the Department of Health (DOH) will gradually increase the number of nurses in the country from the current 4.6 nurses per 1,000 members of the population to five, in a bid to improve working conditions in the nursing sector.
Chiu also promised to reduce the number of patients in hospital wards that each nurse is responsible for from four to three.
The DOH has also agreed to hike salaries and staff numbers, and to exempt nurses from unnecessary paperwork to reduce their workload, he said at a national consultation meeting on medical care reform.
However, these changes will inevitably increase costs in the medical system. Teng Su-wen, director of the Bureau of Nursing and Health Services Development under the DOH, said the answer to the budgetary problems is higher charges for hospital beds.
Teng said the bureau has received suggestions such as allotting certain budget quotas under the national health insurance program for nursing staff, but she added that cross-ministerial discussions are needed to evaluate this idea.
She said a government subsidy of NT$2 billion (US$67.8 million), announced in late April as an overtime fund and to pay for more new hires, is an incentive program for this year but will not cure the problem of long working hours for nurses.
Attendees at the meeting raised many other suggestions, including flexible working hours for nurses, as well as different pay scales for night shifts and national holidays.
The DOH said it listened to all the opinions presented at the meeting and will submit a proposal for medical care reform May 9.
(By Chen Ching-fang and Jamie Wang)