The Ministry of Health yesterday warned that there are not enough qualified nurses in China to cope with the rising demand for medical services.
"A shortage of nurses has become a big problem in China's health service as the country has become an ageing society," ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an said at a press conference.
At the end of 2005, there were approximately 1.35 million nurses on the Chinese mainland, which means one nurse to every 1,000 residents.
The World Health Organization standard is 1:500.
Official statistics show that China has at least 3.27 million hospital beds, which treat more than 50 million inpatients each year.
According to a survey done by the ministry in 400 major hospitals in early 2005, the average ratio of nurses to beds was 0.33 to 1.
The ministry's stipulated ratio for major hospitals is 0.4 to 1.
Those hospitals investigated were the best ones in the biggest cities, so it is likely that the situation at county or town-level hospitals is worse, Mao warned.
One reason for problem is that many hospitals prefer to hire more doctors rather than nurses, Mao said.
Experts said this was because hospital managers believe doctors can attract more patients, which leads to higher profits.
Due to time-consuming duties such as assisting doctors and administering medication, nurses often lack time for patient support, Mao said.
A nurse interviewed by China Daily echoed this complaint.
"It is wrong to say that I do not want to give more care to my patients. I am just so tired, and I have no time to give them more than just the regular service," said Yuan Ling, a nurse from Hunan Xiangya Hospital in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province.
In her department of the hospital, about seven nurses have to perform the duties of 40 nurses during the daytime. Added to this she has to work an extra half day every week.
To fill the gap, many hospitals have employed temporary workers.
Patients are usually required to pay for the service of these workers, even though the majority are from rural areas and lack experience.
These workers can help take care of patients, but they cannot administer medical treatment, Mao noted.
To combat the shortage the ministry is working on a regulation that will require hospitals to employ a sufficient number of nurses and protect their rights.
The ministry has sent the regulation to the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council, but the spokesman gave no indication of when it would be implemented.
However, before the regulation comes into effect, hospitals will be asked to employ and train more nurses.
Source: China Daily