For 93-year-old Sum Shuet, longevity is nothing but a curse.

"I hope my son will fall asleep soon, so I can also sleep," Sum expressed metaphorically, "I do not want to live anymore."

13 years ago, Sum's then 55-year-old son, an electronics repairman and the breadwinner of the family, had a stroke which left him staying in a care home. Sum then had to resume her role as her son's caretaker – visiting him every day, with the help of walking equipment.

"I just want him to sleep soon, so I can follow him... Life is too painful for me," she said.

Hong Kong faces a greying population and a manpower crunch

Sum's case is not unique.

It highlights a few problems arising from a fast greying population in Hong Kong, as well as the lack of community-based services and an age-friendly environment to encourage active ageing.

Hong Kong's men and women also have one of the longest life expectancies in the world ̶ 87 years for women and 81 for men ̶ implying that more people will be relying on social services paid by a shrinking workforce.

A study released by the government two weeks ago revealed that the city will face a shortfall of 1,669 general nurses in the next 13 years. Singapore is following closely behind, with an increasing ageing population amid a manpower crunch.

Singapore to follow Hong Kong's footsteps in community nursing

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor embarked on a two-day study trip to Hong Kong and has reaffirmed Singapore's move to develop community nursing to address the issue.

She said that Singapore can learn from how community nursing, which began in 1967 in Hong Kong, has evolved over the years, from simple care in the homes to sub-acute care services.

The Hong Kong trip was deemed instructive as it showed how Singapore can build up the "competencies and core capabilities of our community nurses," said Dr Khor.

"This will help us in determining the type of training and education, as well as how we can design the community nursing teams. The Regional Health Systems with their regional presence will be best placed to initiate and drive this," she added.

Shifting care from acute hospitals into homes of the elderly

In March Dr Khor said that the Ministry of Health was looking for ways to get nurses to shift their care from acute hospitals into people's homes. Currently only 4,900 of Singapore's approximately 34,000 practising nurses are in the community care sector. The ministry aims to add 900 more by 2020.

The trip reaffirmed the belief that "nursing really can play a pivotal role in leading care transformation. And that it is in anchoring care in the community so that we transform care from one that is being very acute-centric to one that is person-centric, population-based," said Dr Khor.

She also remarked that there will be opportunities for community nurses in career progression and rotation in an acute-care setting, so that they can brush up their skills. Flexible working hours across all hospitals is also something the ministry is looking into.

Giving nurses the high respect they deserve

Looking at Hong Kong, Dr Khor said community nursing in Hong Kong is largely driven by the hospital clusters, which is what Singapore is considering.

The ministry is also looking at having several community nursing teams in the three integrated clusters that serve the different geographical regions, and each team will have 10 to 15 nurses.

"We are looking at probably having more than 200 (for the three clusters) of these community nurses being housed and, of course, driven from the Regional Health Systems by 2019," said Dr Khor.

She also pointed out that nurses in Hong Kong are highly respected with places in universities oversubscribed, urging Singapore to follow in suit.

"Parents apparently have very high respect for the nursing profession, and many parents actually do encourage their children to join the nursing profession," she said. MIMS

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