By Salma Khalik Health Correspondent
SINGAPORE will not be able to produce enough nurses for its own needs for years to come, despite plans to increase the number of locally trained nurses from 1,700 a year at present to 2,700 a year.
Figures for the past decade from the Singapore Nursing Board (SNB) suggest that the country's health system will have to recruit between 1,000 and 2,000 foreign nurses each year to meet the rising demand for health care that comes with a growing and rapidly ageing population.
This is because the steady expansion of medical services in Singapore will see hospitals, nursing homes and clinics fighting for a limited pool of local nurses.
First, there is the opening of the new community hospital in Yishun later this year.
Add to that the opening of the 700-bed Ng Teng Fong Hospital and a new building with 250 beds at Changi General Hospital next year, and the demand for trained nurses is expected to be fierce.
Two more community hospitals and several nursing homes will also be opening within the next few years.
In the two years leading up to the opening of the 580-bed Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in 2010, about 7,400 nurses were added to the pool - of which more than 4,000 were foreign.
Several hospitals told The Straits Times that they see themselves recruiting substantial numbers of foreigners - as they have been doing in the past few years.
Eastern Health Alliance, which includes Changi General Hospital, needs to hire about 200 nurses this year, said its head of personnel Lilian Chew. Singaporeans are the preferred choice, but she added: "Due to the limited pool and our urgent needs, we are expanding recruitment globally."
And KK Women's and Children's Hospital director of nursing Tan Soh Chin said she anticipates having to hire another 100 nurses and will consider recruiting from overseas.
Other health institutions too will be looking for more nurses. The National University Hospital will need up to 200 more this year. The new Ng Teng Fong Hospital will need to add another 400 nurses to the 1,100 it now has at Alexandra Hospital.
Once its staff moves out by next year, a new team - the one that will be running the new hospital to open in Sengkang in 2018 - will take over Alexandra Hospital. This means it will need to recruit the 1,000 nurses that Alexandra would then require.
Private hospitals too will need more, though Parkway Group, which runs four hospitals here, trains its own nurses who are mostly Malaysians.
The latest SNB annual report shows that the bulk of foreign nurses are from the Philippines, with close to 4,000 of them working here.
Generally, qualified nurses have no problems getting the approval to work here. All in, Singapore has 34,200 trained nurses.
All hospitals, both public and private, are also working hard to retain their older and more experienced nurses. At the end of 2011, Singapore had 2,280 nurses who were 60 years old or older.