Monday, 19 April 2010

Hong Kong -- Nurses may be hired from the Philippines

Territory losing 800 government nurses each year to private sector and overseas
John Carney
South China Morning Post
18 April 2010

The Hospital Authority, which is suffering from a serious shortage of nurses, is prepared to hire those in the Philippines. It will also consider former Filipino nurses now working as domestic helpers in Hong Kong if they meet the qualifications.

There is a global shortage of nurses and the authority, which has 20,000 nurses, is losing about 800 a year to the private sector and overseas.

The authority wants to recruit at least 1,300 nurses in this financial year but expects fewer than 1,200 posts will be filled. It is setting up a high-level task force to find ways to plug the brain drain and one solution is to recruit from the Philippines.

"Whatever nationality you may be, you are all welcome to sit for the Nursing Council of Hong Kong's practising certificate. It's open to everyone," Joseph Lee Kok-long, the chairman of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, said.

Nurses from overseas must pass a test certified by the council before they can be accepted as a registered nurse in the city. The test is in two parts--one written and one practical. It can be done in English.

The applicants must also have recognised qualifications from their home countries before they take the test. They will then undergo interviews to assess their suitability, experience, knowledge and skills, an authority spokesman said.

Many former Filipino nurses are already working in Hong Kong as domestic helpers. Some are working essentially as carers for the elderly in the families.

The language problem is an obvious stumbling block. The authority said that as patients in public hospitals are predominantly Cantonese speakers, knowledge of the dialect would be a preferred attribute in the selection process.

"One obvious criteria is that nurses speak Cantonese," Lee said.

Many former Filipino nurses have learned Cantonese while working as domestic helpers. One, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that because she was classified as a domestic helper, she had not applied to work as a nurse.

"There's no guarantee you will get a job as a nurse, and it's easier to find work as a domestic helper," she said. "I don't know of anyone from the Philippines who has applied to be a nurse here and got the job."

Another issue is that Hong Kong's import policy for professionals is strictly enforced, with the number of migrants allowed under the Quality Migrant Admission Scheme tightly controlled.

Although the employment of overseas professionals may seem a labour matter, it is the Immigration Department which makes the decision. The department said each individual case for employment is judged on its own merits.

In Japan, the government has in recent years allowed the employment of up to 1,000 Filipino carers to help look after the elderly, with Filipino doctors and nurses in great demand. Applicants are required to undergo only a few months of language training.

"With some Cantonese training, Filipino nurses can be just as valuable in Hong Kong," Cynthia Tellez, a director of the Mission for Migrant Workers Organisation in Hong Kong, said.

"If it's a professional requirement to speak Cantonese, then why not create a basic course for those who want to nurse here like in Japan. It will make sense to tap into this source of professionally trained individuals."

Since the American colonial period in the Philippines, an educational system has been in place that includes full medical training. Filipinos have always received a high standard of nursing training and continue to do so. For financial reasons, many of these trained nurses invariably end up in hospitals in the United States and Britain.

In the past week, allegations were made by the Hong Kong Non-Public Organisations and Private Nursing Staff Association chairwoman Irene Leung Yuk-han that nurses at a leading private hospital in Kowloon, St Teresa's Hospital, are having to sign false clinical records because they were too understaffed to complete their duties.

The Department of Health and the polic are investigating the claims and the hospital has denied any irregularities.

On top of this, the nursing shortage at public hospitals is also putting the lives of blood cancer patients at risk, prompting the authority to consider urgent measures to cope.

Waiting time for a bone marrow transplant at Queen Mary Hospital, the main centre for the procedure in Hong Kong, has doubled from two months to four since late last year, with the hospital failing to cope with a surge in demand because of a shortage of nurses.

The most pressing problem in Hong Kong is a serious shortage of experienced nurses. Attractive salaries offered by private hospitals, which pay HK$5,000 a month more for a newly graduated nurse, have seen an exodus from public hospitals.

Even if the public sector gets 200 fresh graduates to replace the 200 lost to the private sector, the quality of the services will be affected as the new nurses need to be supervised.

Nurses in highly specialised disciplines such as surgery, cardiology, neonatal and intensive care, are most in demand in the private sector.

In a study conducted by Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff last year, it found that one government nurse cared for 10 to 12 patients compared with the international standard of one to four or six.


  1. This is a good news..I would like to ask how can we submit applications for the jobs offered in Hong Kong for nurses like me..thanks..


  2. I am interested, nursing jobs in Hongkong, where can I possibly submit my application. Thank you.