The key issue is retention, Ms Rahayu said.
Outlining the strategy the Ministry of Health has put in place to achieve this, she said the ministry is reviewing the scope of work for nurses to allow them to spend more time on direct patient care and ensuring that remuneration was competitive locally and internationally.
In terms of scope of work, public healthcare institutions reduce the administrative workload, for example by introducing innovations in the fields of automation, technology, robotics and AI-based technology .
The ministry has also streamlined care processes and deployed dedicated administrative and support staff to help nurses, she added.
Mr. Ng also asked if the National Committee for the Welfare of Young Doctors could expand its scope of work to include working hours and working conditions for nurses.
In response, Ms. Rahayu said issues related to junior doctors need to be addressed differently due to their regular rotations in the public health system, compared to other employees who are hired directly by public health clusters.
She noted that although the ministry does not impose a minimum number of rest hours, nurses’ duty schedules are planned in advance to ensure staff get “adequate” rest between shifts.
“While we prioritize the well-being of our nurses, we appreciate the reality of their job, which is to provide quality and timely care to patients,” she said.
Mr. Ng asked for a definition of adequate rest. He said some nurses finish their shift at 9 or 10 p.m. and are back at work at 7 a.m. the next day, which he pointed out results in insufficient rest.
In response, Ms Rahayu said there are many different arrangements within public health facilities on how they manage their employees’ rest hours. In some clusters, rest is provided through rotating shifts, she said.
However, she noted that the realities on the ground can be “difficult” and nurses may have to go above and beyond their “call of duty”.
The Ministry of Health is working to ensure there are enough nurses on the ground, Ms Rahayu said, noting that the number of nurses in recent years has remained stable.
The local nursing workforce has increased from around 1,500 in 2014 to around 2,100 in 2021, she noted.
Given the growing demand for healthcare workers as the population ages, Ms Rahayu urged families and caregivers to be a partner in the care journey of their loved ones to ease the workload of workers.
“We understand the importance of recognizing the contributions of nurses and the department has been working to review their salaries and allowances,” she said.
Over the past five years, annual salaries for local nurses in public health facilities – which include base salary, allowances and bonuses – have increased, she noted.
She added that with the easing of COVID-19, public health facilities allowed nurses time off from work to rest and recuperate, including allowing foreign nurses to return home.
The data shows the leave is approved and authorized, Ms Rahayu said.
“The Department of Health remains committed to providing support to public healthcare clusters in our efforts to ensure there is sufficient workforce on the ground and look after the well-being of our nurses as ‘they continue to face the pressures of COVID-19 outbreak waves and an aging population,’ she said.