Are doctors, nurses leaving public hospitals for money?

Thursday, Aug 23, 2012
By Judith Tan

A bonus payout is usually a good thing.

But for bosses in the public health sector, it's also a worrying time.

Once the money is banked in, some doctors and nurses call it quits.

And with the opening of two new hospitals, the temptation may be for them to join the private sector.

Speaking to The New Paper under the condition of anonymity, a doctor leaving the public sector said July and August are the "usual period of the year that medical personnel hand in their letters".

She said: "In general, bonuses at public hospitals are paid out twice a year, with the majority in July.

"So, depending on the notice period required, we serve notice only after the money's in the bank."

TNP understands that the opening of the new private hospitals has affected the public sector hospitals.

A number of specialists in areas such as orthopaedics, cancer, gynaecology and anaesthesia recently handed in their resignation letters at the seven public hospitals.

The typical period of notice for doctors is between one and three months, depending on their seniority.

But when approached, six public hospitals contacted by TNP were tight-lipped about the number of staff leaving.

Until now, it has been good for the administrators of public hospitals.

In the first half of this year, fewer nurses and doctors left for the private sector.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said the attrition rates for doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and pharmacists in the first half of this year went down overall, compared with the same period last year.

The number of doctors joining private institutions fell to 3.1 per cent from 3.2 per cent in the same period last year.

Nurses who left went down to 4 per cent from 5 per cent, and allied health professionals and pharmacists was also down to 4.6 per cent from 6.9 per cent.

To counter the possibility of doctors and nurses leaving in the second half of the year, different hospitals give out bonuses at different times, said a doctor who also asked to remain unnamed.

But that may still not be enough.

Said the doctor, who left the public sector earlier this year: "Some, like the Singapore General Hospital, have started a retention bonus which comprises quite a large sum.

"It's paid to a select few and in stages.

"The new Mount Elizabeth Novena opened early last month with only a handful of doctors.

"They expect the bulk to come in once these doctors serve out their time, to start operation by the end of this year."

A plastic surgeon with a clinic at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre said several specialists from the public hospitals "have already bought units" there.

So, how many new specialists have registered to practice with the Parkway group which has under its wing the new Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre?

Dr Lim Suet Wun, executive vice-president (Singapore operations) at the Parkway Pantai Group, did not give numbers.

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