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Nursing staff shortage must be solved quickly: president

TAIPEI--President Ma Ying-jeou instructed the Department of Health on yesterday to quickly launch a government initiative to increase the number of nurses in Taiwan and lower the nurse-to patient ratio to a reasonable level.

The department is still working on a plan to fund the education of 200 nursing school students who will be dispatched to rural areas in urgent need of medical workers when they graduate, Ma said when he met with nurses' groups at the Presidential Office.

Ma instructed the department to quickly complete the project's planning and set aside funding for the program so that it can be introduced as early as in 2014.

In discussing an appropriate government target for a nurse-to-patient ratio, participants at the meeting suggested adopting Japan's standard of 1:7 in Taiwan.

According to a National Audit Office report, a survey conducted among 5,710 nurses working at public hospitals in March 2011 showed that the ratios stood at 1:9.47 for day shifts, 1:14.52 for night shifts, and 1:17.06 for graveyard shifts.

The report was published in January this year.

To meet the 1:7 ratio, Ma said hospitals would have to hire an estimated 9,207 new nurses at an additional cost of NT$5.5 billion (US$185.71 million) a year. He directed the department to study Japan's standard as a reference in setting a reasonable ratio for Taiwan.

The nursing staff shortage has led to poor working conditions for nurses in hospitals, including long working hours, and one local nurses' group, the Taiwan Radical Nurses Union, recently announced that it would hold a rally on May 10 to urge improvement.

The president also noted the high percentage of people with nursing licenses who choose not to practice and asked the department to review the situation before looking into aspects of Taiwan's training and licensing systems for nurses.

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