In-patient wards at public hospitals are being described as a "war zone," as one nurse may have to care for up to 56 patients per shift amid the winter flu season. A nurse, who did not specify which public hospital she works at, exposed the tiring ordeal she faces daily on a radio program yesterday.
She said a ward usually holds 36 regular beds, but due to the influenza season, that number has soared to 56, making the bed occupancy rate 155 percent - much higher than the official figure of 110 to 120 percent that the Hospital Authority quotes.
Sometimes during night shifts, one or two nurses have to tend to all 56 patients, she revealed.
"It feels like I'm going to war every day. I don't know how many people will come in that day, and how much work I'll be doing," she said.
The nurse said extra beds have been crammed into every nook and cranny, and her colleagues often have difficulty reaching a patient's bedside.
"We work extra hard but all [the Hospital Authority] does is add more beds to push us to our limits. We have sacrificed our own health and our time to rest just to do our job," the nurse said.
The Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff placed full-page ads in newspapers last week, slamming the authority for failing to employ more nurses to cope with the additional beds put in hospitals.
The authority said about 1,140 additional part time and temporary nursing staff had been recruited as of January 21.
But the association's chairman and nursing-sector lawmaker Joseph Lee Kok-long asked where the additional part-timers have gone, as many wards are devoid of extra help.
In response, Lawrence Poon Yan-wing, chief manager (nursing), said many of the 1,140 hired are current nursing students, who can only handle simple tasks.
"We understand the plight faced by frontline staff and we are touched by the professionalism they uphold," Poon said.
He said the authority would study the feasibility of reducing the amount of paper work that has to be done by full-time nurses.
It will also continue to hire and try to recruit as many graduates this year to reduce the workload on nurses.
According to the authority, 5,869 people sought treatment at emergency rooms on Saturday. Of these, 877 had to be admitted to wards. The overall occupancy rate that day was 111 percent, with 12 out of 15 hospitals were running over capacity.
By Riley Chan
The Standard Hong Kong
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