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Altered clinic hours won't affect patient care: MHW

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- After the announcement that evening clinics will be shut down in most hospitals after the Chinese New Year holiday, yesterday the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOWH) stressed that patients will not be affected by the change.

A hospital reform committee said on Monday that the decision was made in response to the Council of Labor Affairs' cancellation of flexible working hours for hospital staff; a change which called for all hospital staff to have fixed working hours that will prevent overwork. The new system will be carried out starting Jan. 1.

Due to the need to work multiple shifts with a heavy workload, high stress, irregular daily routines and short-staffing issues, there has been an increase in reports of nurses falling ill or even passing out from chronic overwork, resulting in the system alteration.

According to Hsieh Wu-chi (謝武吉) of the Taiwan Hospital Association (THA), there are as many as 6,000 hospital staff joining the workforce each year, but this year the number was cut in half — a phenomenon that the MHW failed to notice.

The new system will affect the patients immensely, said THA's Yang Han-hsien (楊漢憲). “It would take six to eight months for the Council of Labor Affairs to recruit one new staff member, and the MHW still refuses to step in even if it knows of the hospitals' predicaments,” said Yang.

MHW official Lee Wei-chung (李偉強) refuted the accusations, saying that the cancellation of the previous system was not a last-minute decision, and many hospitals have already taken measures to accommodate the changes. “I believe the majority of hospitals are ready for the new system; there may be complaints but the patients will not be affected much,” Lee stated.

Written into Labor Standards Act Next Year

The welfare of registered nursing staff and caretakers will be written into the Labor Standards Act starting next year, said the MHW last week. The original “responsibility system” — which applied to nursing staff and paramedics in Taiwan — has now expired for the former group. Nursing staff are to work no more than eight hours per day, and the duration of additional shifts is restricted as well.

Total working hours per day, including additional shifts, should not top 12 hours, and workload is limited to 84 hours over two weeks, said the MHW. The ratio of nursing staff to patients will be calculated and recorded next year, with the numbers to be assessed in accordance with the new system.

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