Hospitals and clinics in S'pore desperate for nurses, offering 'finder's fee' to staff

SINGAPORE - Hospitals and clinics here are so desperate for nurses that at least one private hospital group is offering a "finder's fee" of up to $12,000 for staff who can rope in an experienced nurse to join.

Even a fresh graduate nurse joining the hospital can bring the introducer a windfall of at least $3,600 at the group.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the shortage of nurses, as the need for them grows even as more of them quit their jobs.

Last year, for the first time in more than two decades, Singapore experienced a drop in the number of nurses working here.

There was an increase of 45 registered nurses but a fall of 617 enrolled nurses last year - a net loss of 572 nurses. Enrolled nurses generally work under the supervision of registered nurses.

At the end of last year, there were a total of 42,096 nurses, a third of whom were foreigners.

The drop in the number of nurses working here comes despite the 2,356 new registered nurses and 661 enrolled nurses who joined the profession in 2020.

The situation is even worse this year.

A private hospital administrator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: "Nursing is in high demand everywhere.

"Foreign nurses use Singapore as a jumping board for better jobs in countries like Canada, since there is little chance of their getting permanent residency in Singapore. There's no future for them here."

Those still in service end up shouldering the extra workload. To cope, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) says it has to close four general ward beds in order to provide the manpower needed for one intensive care unit (ICU) bed.

National University Hospital's (NUH) chief nurse Joann Pang said: "In view of the current pandemic situation and its long-drawn effects, we are seeing a shortage of nurses.

"Understandably, some of our foreign nurses have returned home to be with their families and loved ones. One of our greatest challenges now is to build up our nursing numbers and, at the same time, ensure these nurses are competent to deliver safe care to our patients."

Dr Tracy Carol Ayre, SingHealth's group chief nurse, said direct hiring of foreign nurses has been impacted by the pandemic.

To lighten the workload on nurses, the cluster has recruited "basic care assistants" to take over the more basic aspects of patient care, and "care ambassadors" to handle non-clinical work.

This frees up nurses to concentrate on higher-level nursing care.

To try to ease the situation, the Singapore Nursing Board said it has worked with the Ministry of Health on several initiatives, such as offering temporary registration for foreign-trained nurses, to augment the local workforce.