More than 100 members of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff protested outside government headquarters on Sunday, demanding more be done to tackle overstretched resources at public hospitals.
Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan appeared at the protest personally to meet the nurses, but she did not promise to fulfil their demands. Chan left as protesters booed her.
Hong Kong has entered peak flu season. On Sunday, bed occupancy at 15 public hospitals stood at an average of 113 per cent. Tuen Mun Hospital has the highest occupancy of 124 per cent.
A nurse, surnamed Chan, said at the Sunday protest that the government should spend more public funds on healthcare.
“It is very sad for patients and family members. I may have to stay in a hospital in the future too, and I don’t want the environment to feel like a battlefield,” she said. “I have to take care of up to 20 patients at the same time. You will understand what quality of service we are providing, and that it is easy for us to make mistakes.”
Chan said the hospitals were extremely crowded.
“Sometimes we joke that nurses at public hospitals can’t be obese. Because then we can’t even walk through the gaps between the beds,” she said.
Another nurse, surnamed Wong, said that management often cared more about keeping documents in order than offering enough resources to the nurses.
“We don’t have enough people working. When we work night shifts there are only two nurses and one healthcare assistant,” she said.
Lawmaker Joseph Lee, who is also chair of the Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff, said the association’s last protest was more than ten years ago, but that the situation had not improved since.
The protesters also said top management of the Hospital Authority should not receive bonuses given the current situation.
They asked for a reasonable number of nursing staff, improvements to be made in clinical supervision and administrative management, and for medical equipment to be updated.
Sophia Chan appeared at the protest for around 20 minutes and said she understood the demands.
“I believe the four demands are reasonable and that we should try to implement them,” she said.
Previously, Chan was criticised for telling nurses to “be charitable” and bear with the heavy workload and work extra hours.
She said on Sunday: “It does not mean the government has no solutions. I just wanted to express my gratitude.”
Chan was booed several times during the protest, as nurses accused her of “speaking empty words” and “morally blackmailing medical staff.” Chan rebuffed these accusations.
Protesters also said the actual bed occupancy rate at public hospitals could be as high as 150 per cent. Chan said she knew the public had doubts over the data.
“I hope the Hospital Authority will clarify the data,” she said.
The protesters then marched to the Chief Executive’s Office. They put their petition letter outside the office, as there was no one there to receive it.