The cabinet's decision to upgrade more than 22,600 temporary medical staff to permanent government employees is expected to halt the drain of public sector nurses, the Nurses' Association of Thailand (Nat) says.
Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong has confirmed that 22,641 temporary medical staff, including 17,000 nurses, will be upgraded from contract workers to full-time government employees in the next three years.
The president of Nat, Jintana Unipan, said the upgrade will encourage more medical professionals to stay at jobs in the public health system.
According to a survey by the association, 48% of nurses who are hired as temporary staff in public hospitals leave their jobs in the first year, and about 25% of nurses leave in the second year.
Most of those nurses are drawn into private hospitals because they offer more stability and lighter workloads, she said.
More than 14,000 nurses work under temporary status in public hospitals.
The Thai Journal of Nursing Council indicated earlier this year that more than 31,000 nurses are needed to fill gaps in public hospitals.
The report predicted the nursing shortage will worsen over time.
The launch of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 and the government's medical hub project could worsen the drain of public sector nurses, Ms Jintana said.
The AEC and the government's medical hub project would attract more nurses into the private sector as they opt for higher-paid foreign positions or take jobs in private, profit-driven clinics targetting foreign patients, she said.
She said the new status upgrades are likely to help the rural regions most.
"We believe [the upgrade] will keep nurses at public hospitals, especially at hospitals in rural areas or small towns where medical personnel are needed the most."
The leader of a nurses' network, Sirirat Wongbudda, said the cabinet's decision could help solve the nursing shortage in public hospitals.
Ms Sirirat was hired as a temporary employee at a hospital in a rural part of Khon Kaen province.
Many nurses had left her hospital for work at private hospitals due to a lack of stability.
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Writer: Paritta Wangkiat