City needs to keep pace with times through long-term plan that develops specialty nurses

Director and Professor Sek-ying Chair

In recognising the expertise and contribution of specialty nurses in Hong Kong, the Hospital Authority recently announced a monthly allowance of HK$2,000 for eligible registered nurses with recognised specialty qualifications serving in relevant clinical service areas in both the general and psychiatry streams.

We welcome this relief measure. The allowance will definitely address some of the frustrations of being overworked and underpaid. However, is that enough to support the professional development of specialty nurses? Can this measure effectively enhance the professionalisation and specialisation of nursing to support health care reform and sustainable health care development in the city?

To become a specialty nurse, one has to be extensively trained and well-educated on a par with international standards. Offering HK$2,000 per month to those who have completed a specialty nursing programme is less effective than creating career development opportunities for such nurses in Hong Kong. So far, a plan for reforming career pathways for specialty nurses in line with international practices, to address the city’s dynamic social and health care needs, has yet to be established.

In view of today’s increasingly complex health care environment, relief measures such as the Specialty Nurse Allowance are rather short-sighted. We need a long-term plan for the professional and career development of specialty nurses, in which education is of prime importance.

For specialty nursing education, Hong Kong may learn from the experiences of the United States and other developed countries, where nurse practitioners have proven effective in providing high quality primary care and reducing overall health care costs.

Nurse consultants in Hong Kong can be empowered to take up nurse practitioner roles if the related education programme, accreditation mechanism and practice framework are available. The Chinese University of Hong Kong has taken the initiative to incorporate nurse practitioner components into its Doctor of Nursing curriculum, but a more systematic approach to develop nurse practitioners needs the collaborative effort of the government, the profession and the education sector.

With specialisation in nursing a global trend, nurses with higher education degrees and specialty qualifications will become the norm in the near future. Hong Kong should keep pace with the times.