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Talk of the Day -- Sweatshop hospital issues in spotlight

2012/04/18 21:40:21

The issue of medical personnel's working conditions, particularly those for nurses, has come into the media spotlight as the watchdog Control Yuan passed a resolution Tuesday censuring three public agencies for harsh working conditions at local hospitals.

After nearly a year of investigations, a panel of Control Yuan members said in the resolution that the Executive Yuan, the Department of Health and the Council of Labor Affairs should be blamed for sweatshop working environment at government-run hospitals.

The resolution traced the root cause back to the executive branch's failure to adopt complementary measures to meet hospitals' special manpower demand when it began to implement a five-day workweek system in the early 2000s.

As a result, government-run hospitals have since faced a 9 percent manpower shortage, which has led to heavy work burden for hospital staff, nurses in particular, the resolution said.

Meanwhile, Maggie Lin, a grassroots nurse, has uploaded an article on local nurses' harsh working conditions to CNN's iReport website, titled "the dark moment of nurses in Taiwan," in which she complains about the miserable working conditions faced by herself and her colleagues.

Her views apparently echoed the Control Yuan investigative panel'sfindings.

The following are excerpts from the local media coverage of medical personnel's working conditions and Control Yuan members' comments on the issue:

United Daily News:

Four members of the Control Yuan -- the government branch responsible for investigating and censuring behavior of public agencies and functionaries -- spent nearly a year looking into local medical staff's working terms.

The four members -- Yin Jeo-chen, Chien-Lin Hui-chun, Lin Chu-liang and Lee Fu-dian -- said in their investigative report that rampant culture of overwork has made local public hospitals like sweatshops.

As the issue involves national security, relevant government agencies should take it seriously, the Control Yuan said in its resolution.

Yin, who headed the nursing department of Taipei Veterans General Hospital before serving as a Control Yuan member, said more than 30 percent of local hospitals have fail to pass labor management inspection annually over the past four years.

"It is extremely regrettable that the labor council has failed to take any steps to improve the situation," the resolution said, adding that the council should have worked out effective measures to require hospitals to faithfully abide by the Labor Standards Act.

According to Yin, the five-day workweek system and flawed payment system under the current national health insurance system have led to manpower shortage at public hospitals and overwork of medical staff.

"A nurse at a state-run hospital usually has to look after 13.5 patients on average," Yin said, adding that nurses often need to work overtime by four to five hours a day.

Such a situation could not only endanger patients' lives but also hurt nurses' health, Yin said.

To her knowledge, Yin said a nurse at a public hospital was once required to care for 63 patients during a night work shift.

While enduring long hours of work, nurses have also been terribly underpaid, the resolution said, adding that the Department of Health should be held accountable for dragging foot on revising hospital management regulations.

Maggie Lin said in her article on CNNiReport that Taiwan's National Health Insurance System seems to have created a wonderful medical market for everyone to obtain treatment with low medical bills.

In the end, she said, all of hospitals are impaired by medical staff shortages and Taiwan's government even does not know what the real problem is.

The health insurance system has resulted low salaries for nurses, long working hours without pay, and high nurse-patient rate, she added. (April 18, 2012).

Liberty Times:

Responding to the Control Yuan censure, Chen Hui-ling, director of the labor council's Labor Conditions Department, said the council has worked out a timetable to require medical and health care institutions to abide by working conditions set forth in the Labor Standards Act.

Fir its part, the Department of Health said it has unveiled new management rules that demand medical institutions increase the number of doctors and nurses during each work shift. (April 18, 2012).

(By Sofia Wu)