Sunday 26 February 2012

MOH aims to increase intake of nursing students

By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 25 Feb 2012

The Ministry of Health (MOH) aims to expand the pool of locally trained healthcare workers to address manpower shortage.

One target is to increase the yearly intake of nursing students at tertiary institutions from the current 1,700 to 2,000 by 2015.

The tertiary institutions include the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education.

For allied health courses, the aim is to raise the intake from 270 to 290 by 2014.

There are about 32,000 registered nurses in Singapore and two in 10 are foreigners.

As Singapore move towards reducing its reliance on foreign manpower, expanding its pipeline of local nurses is a key focus.

There are now more training places for nurses. A new nursing degree programme offered by the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) in partnership with the University of Manchester launched in September 2011 will offer upgrading opportunities for nursing diploma graduates, adding to the pool of degree-trained nurses.

It also recently announced its partnership with an overseas university, Trinity College Dublin, to offer degree programmes in physiotherapy and occupational therapy which will be launched in September 2012.

However, industry experts said it remains a challenge to get local students to take up nursing.

This could be due to a lack of avenues for skills upgrading.

Tan Chek Ming, deputy president (Operations), at SIT, said: "Before SIT came in, if you want to be a nurse with a degree in Singapore, you only have one choice which is the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies and they take in mainly those with A-levels. If you are a diploma nurse.... there's no option.

"When SIT came in, we said we must create all these opportunities so that our polytechnic students can then have the opportunity. Now, students will say 'oh wow, there's a path available now.' When the first batch of graduates comes out, they can go back to hospitals and get higher pay and the adjustment to commensurate the degree. Now, they are doing a bigger role, a better job and taking more leadership roles. That will then again inspire and attract more students to come in."

Some nursing students said the image of the profession needs to be improved.

Pearlyn Ng, a third year student at Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies, said: "In Singapore, when you mention nursing, they will have this impression that nursing is only for poly or ITE graduates. But in overseas, there are a lot of degree holders that are nurses. So I think it will take some time before they realize that nursing is a more 'up there' profession."

Another student Zia Ul Hakim said: "I think students need to learn that nurses don't just do manual labour but play a very critical role in patient care."

As for doctors, MOH hopes to encourage those who are studying medicine overseas to return to Singapore by giving them a pre-employment grant in order to increase the pool of doctors here.

Besides increasing the intake at National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, the opening of the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2013 will help to build up the local training pipeline for doctors.

Together, the three schools target to take in 500 students annually, up from the 330 students last year.

NUS also offers a master programme in speech and language pathology to train speech therapists. Currently, the programme has a biennial intake of 30 students, up from its initial biennial intake of 20 students in 2007.

Gan Kim Yong on foreign manpower in healthcare sector
By Joanne Chan, Channel NewsAsia, 21 Feb 2012

Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has said the healthcare sector will continue to need foreign manpower to supplement the country's local manpower needs.

But he said the government will look at ways to moderate the country's dependence on them.

He said his ministry is working on expanding the pool of local healthcare professionals.

Mr Gan added: "At the same time, we are also looking at how we can tap on the manpower resources in the private sector, especially in the primary care, for example.

"So recently, we rolled out the Primary Care Master Plan, which includes the Community Health Assist Scheme, so that our subsidised patients will have access to subsidised care from the private GPs (general practitioners) with a portable subsidy from CHAS."

Mr Gan was speaking to Channel NewsAsia after a recording of Singapore Budget Forum 2012 in Mandarin.

He added productivity in the sector can be increased through mechanisation and changing workflow.

For example, he said machines can be used to lift patients from their beds, to reduce reliance on manpower.

Mr Gan also said the layout of hospitals can be improved to bring services closer to the wards.

This will reduce the need for patients to be moved around too much.

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