Groups pan outpatients cut threat

COUNTERMEASURE::The nation’s hospital association said off-peak outpatient services would have to be cut after some legal changes on overtime

By Alison Hsiao  /  Staff reporter

Wed, Jan 01, 2014 - Page 4

Groups yesterday criticized plans by hospital operators to close down outpatient services at night and on holidays as a countermeasure to being required to pay healthcare workers overtime.

Starting today, all healthcare workers — with the exception of doctors — are to be paid for regular working hours, including any overtime as required, under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法).

Previously, it was easy for hospital operators to abuse their position, Taiwan Nurses Union director Jane Lu (盧孳艷) said at a press conference yesterday.

Taiwan Labor Front, the Taiwan Medical Alliance for Labor Justice and Patient Safety and Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) jointly held the press conference.

Hospitals used “the excuses of needing manpower for emergencies, surgeries and intensive care units to excessively exploit nurses without paying them overtime,” Lu said.

Unions praised the government’s amendments, but called for an immediate compliance check at all medical facilities.

Just days before the change was to take effect, the chairman and the executive director of the Taiwan Hospital Association (THA) reportedly expressed concern over the change and said hospitals would be forced to consider shutting outpatient services to compensate for the manpower shortages as a result of shelling out more in wages.

Lin said the threat was “shameful,” adding that the government’s plan had been a long-term one with supporting measures.

“The government has doled out as much as NT$8 billion [US$268 million] to hospitals for five years since 2009 to help them pay nurses’ salaries, overtime and bonuses,” Lin said. “It has been part of the raft of measures designed to prepare them for the change.”

Lee Wui-chiang (李偉強), the director-general of the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s Department of Medical Affairs, also criticized the hospital association’s response as “made out of impulse.”

“Healthcare workers in outpatient services have always been protected by the regulations on regular working hours. It is the intensive care units or emergency room workers who were not protected previously,” Lee said.

“We have to make sure that people’s rights to medical treatment are protected,” by continuing services, Lee said, but added that the ministry does not encourage night outpatient services because of the risks of people exploiting medical resources.

However, Lee said he has contacted various medical centers and hospitals and none, including the one operated by the THA’s executive director, said their outpatient services would be reduced.