Third of Tartu Hospital nurses do five weeks of work in one month

A COVID-19 department at the North Estonia Medical Center.
A COVID-19 department at the North Estonia Medical Center. Source: North Estonia Medical Center (PERH)

The lack of nurses was an issue before the coronavirus pandemic, but an increased workload has led some nurses to leave the healthcare sectors. While the wages for nurses are high, they are under an immense workload and work significant overtime.

North Estonia Medical Center (PERH) nursing manager Katre Zirel told ERR on Thursday that nurses have done up to 50 hours of overtime a month. Although there has not been a mass exodus of exhausted nurses, there are quite a few that no longer want to do the work.

"I have an example to give you - I had a resignation from an intensive care nurse, but she will not leave right away. She was given some more time. But she wants to leave at the end of the year," Zirel said.

"She made it very clear that she cannot leave her colleagues in this situation. Medics are not eager to leave during trying times, but if something gives, it can happen. We are talking about there being a deficit in the sector, each person leaving the sector is a loss," the head nurse said.

University of Tartu Hospital nursing and patient experience manager Ilona Pastarus said a third of the hospital's nurses do an extra 40 hours a work each month - a week's worth of overtime.

The minimum hourly wage for nurses in regular wards is €8.40, with supplemental pay for specialized wards and cases.

"One was the collective agreement minimum, but if you want to know the actual number, I looked at the times before COVID-19. The average gross wage of a nurse in the hospital was €1,890 in 2020. Some 60 percent of the hospital's costs are for wages, which is quite a large amount, especially if compared to Helsinki Hospital, for example," Pastarus said.

Estonian Nurses' Association (Eesti Õdede Liit) head Anneli Kannus said nurses receiving higher pay at the expense of a significant amount of overtime is already a critical situation.

In addition, Kannus said hospital managers are looking for ways to cut costs. "I agree, 65 percent of the total budget on staff costs is unreasonably much in an economic sense. Our hospitals are not regular companies, where owners expect and work toward profits. I would point out that many educational establishments in Estonia, including healthcare colleges, are in a situation today, in which they must pay 70-80 of their budget to the staff," Kannus said.

Although the nurse had more criticisms for wages, the nurses' association and hospitals both think the actual cause of the issue is a simple one - too much work, not enough nurses.

Ilona Pastarus said the University of Tartu Hospital has created 51 new nurse and caretaker positions to lessen workloads since the start of the year.

"Even if we raised these wages to a very high level - we would not have additional people coming in from one place or another. Then we would just move these resources from one place to the next," Pastarus said.

Although Minister of Education and Research Liina Kersna said in the end of October that 80 more study slots will be created for nurses, that number is still not enough, according to the Estonian Nurses' Association.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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