A government injection of NT$4.7 billion (US$158 million) to improve hospital services and increase nurses’ welfare and salaries from 2009 through this year has had a very limited impact and might have boosted hospitals’ profits instead, the Consumers’ Foundation said yesterday.
Chairperson Joann Su (蘇錦霞) said the foundation had interviewed several nurses and heard about their “unreasonable” working conditions, such as difficulty taking leave, staff shortages, frequent shift changes and disorderly work schedules.
Su said the Department of Health had earmarked about NT$830 million in 2009, NT$830 million in 2010, NT$1 billion last year and NT$2 billion this year exclusively for improving the quality of nursing care, promoting nurses’ welfare and employing more nursing personnel.
In addition to the earmarked funding, the total budget provided by the Bureau of National Health Insurance to hospitals increased by NT$14.6 billion in 2009, NT$11.4 billion in 2010, NT$11.6 billion last year and NT$16.1 billion this year, for a total increase of NT$53.7 billion in four years, said National Health Insurance Medical Expenditure Negotiation Committee representative Hsieh Tien-jen (謝天仁), a former chairman of the foundation.
However, figures provided by the department showed that the average monthly increase in nursing personnel last year was 1.92 percent, or a total of 1,709 new nurses, foundation secretary-general Chen Chih-yi (陳智義) said.
Based on last year’s funding of NT$1 billion, divided by the 1,709 new nurses, the nurses should have had an average monthly salary of at least NT$49,000, which is slightly higher than the average salary for nurses, Chen said.
However, the large increase in the hospitals’ budgets did not go toward improving the quality of care or nurses’ welfare, he said.
“Consumers pay more and more money to improve the quality of care and nurses’ welfare, but the actual improvements are very limited,” Hsieh said, adding that nurses and medical personnel continue to be exploited by hospitals.
Data from the National Union of Nurses’ Associations shows that the earmarked funds had no impact on nurses’ working conditions, Su said.
Nurses on the day shift had to take care of between eight and 13 patients at the same time, 10 to 20 patients during night shifts and 20 to 30 on late night shifts, Su said.
The extremely heavy workload has led to nurses quitting and people receiving poor healthcare, Hsieh said.
About 7 percent of nursing positions are currently vacant, which means about 7,000 new nurses are needed in Taiwan, he said.
“It’s not a problem that can be solved by continuously increasing the budgets for hospitals, because the problem lies with hospitals making more profits by exploiting medical workers,” he said.