There has been a surge in resignations in the healthcare sector with about 1,500 medical workers having resigned in just the first half of 2021, compared with about 2,000 resignations annually before the pandemic, Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary revealed in Parliament on Monday, Nov. 1.
Close to 500 foreign doctors and nurses have quit in the first half of 2021, which is about the same number of resignations seen throughout the year in 2020.
In 2020 there were 500, while in 2019 there were 600, Janil said, noting that the current resignations are in light of the workers being unable to travel back home to see their families during this pandemic.
Singapore cannot open up yet
Janil was giving his ministerial statement in Parliament on an update on the intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital capacity situation.
Given this reality, Janil said Singapore cannot risk having the number of Covid-19 cases "shoot up" by opening up and overwhelming the healthcare system at a time when medical workers are already stretched.
For the month of September, Janil said nurses worked an average of 160 to 175 hours per month.
This can be understood to mean that time spent getting ready for and travelling to and from work have not been factored in, which can easily add tens of hours extra on top of work hours per month.
Have not taken leave for a while
"Our hospitals are feeling the manpower crunch. Signs of fatigue can be seen amongst our healthcare workers. It has been over 20 months of continuous daily battle against the pandemic," he said.
"A large proportion of our healthcare workers have not had the opportunity to take leave since 2020, and over 90 per cent of them will not be able to clear their accumulated leave for 2021."
But healthcare workers will be able to clear their outstanding leave now.
MOH Holdings has announced that application for overseas leave to travel to countries under the recently implemented vaccinated travel lane is allowed.
“Our healthcare workers have gone way beyond the call of duty to care for their patients. The hospitals are trying to minimise having staff work overtime,” Janil also said.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) is redeploying manpower at health institutions to serve as healthcare of patient care assistants.
Manpower crunch puts limit on capacity
Janil also revealed that manpower is the "most important limit" in increasing ICU bed capacity to cater to severe Covid-19 cases.
Currently, the Ministry of Health (MOH) is working to increase ICU beds for Covid-19 patients from 219 to 280 by this week, and to expand it to 350 beds.
At the moment, 130 critically-ill Covid-19 patients occupy 60 per cent of the 219 ICU beds reserved for Covid-19 patients.
Non-Covid-19 patients with life-threatening medical conditions occupy about 80 per cent of 163 adult ICU beds.
Before the pandemic, the average occupancy rate was 63 per cent out of 298 adult ICU beds.
MOH has been coping with more Covid-19 patients by reducing the number of non-Covid-19 ICU beds.
However, patients in ICU need trained staff, Janil added.
Any increase in capacity has to see an increase in manpower.
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Top photo via Mothership