To ease Hong Kong’s public hospital critical care crush, train more ICU nurses to serve private sector

Prof. Sek-ying Chair, Director and Professor, The Nethersole School of Nursing, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Currently, most critically ill patients requiring close monitoring and intensive care are sent to public hospitals, further burdening the already overloaded and overstressed health care workforce in the public sector.

The Hospital Authority has always been encouraged to collaborate with the private sector to encourage more financially able patients to receive intensive care in private hospitals. Although private hospitals are well equipped with state-of-the-art medical facilities, admitting more patients to their intensive care units (ICU) is basically impossible, due to insufficient ICU nurse staffing that limits the number of their ICU beds.

Though many patients are willing to pay, they end up being transferred to public hospitals due to the unavailability of ICU beds in private hospitals.

Obviously, the availability of sufficient qualified ICU nurses is the key. However, the current preparation and supply of ICU nurses is inadequate. Public hospitals are hesitant to open up ICU-related units for specialty clinical practicum, in which those who want to be qualified to work in ICUs can observe and get clinical experience under guidance, for fear of further overloading  the nurses there. This inadequacy hinders private hospitals from expanding their intensive care services.

Only by strengthening education can the ICU nurse shortage be solved. To achieve this, opening up ICU-related units in public hospitals for specialty clinical practicum is crucial. The comprehensive critical care management and clinical practice opportunities in public hospitals will significantly enrich students’ knowledge, expertise and experiences gained in diversified intensive care situations.

With a sufficient number of well-educated and fully prepared ICU nurses, private hospitals will be able to take on more patients to alleviate the burden on Hospital Authority ICU beds, helping to reduce staff turnover rates and avoid medical incidents caused by manpower shortage in Hospital Authority facilities.

Also, the public health care costs in this area can be reduced and more resources allocated to other patients in need. Most importantly, patients will be able to receive timely and quality intensive care. In a world-class city like Hong Kong, high-quality health and intensive care services should be an established fact.