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Photograph: Freeimages.com / Afonso Lima

According to EU standards, the Croatian health system is short of 12,500 nurses while at the same time more than 1,300 nurses are looking for a job, a national union of nurses said on Wednesday, warning that Health Minister Dario Nakic's instruction from early February, banning new hiring in hospitals, was untenable.

Because of the instruction, hospitals need the ministry's approval for any new hiring and the health system is in a state of collapse because the two biggest hospital centres in Zagreb alone lack more than 1,000 nurses, union leader Anica Prasnjak said.

The acting director of the University Hospital Centre in Zagreb, Ante Corusic, told Croatian Radio and Television on Wednesday morning that the centre was short of 690 nurses.

The union said that a similar situation existed in the city's Sestre Milosrdnice hospital, which lacked 400 nurses to meet the minimum standards regarding medical staff.

The European average is 703 nurses per 100,000 people, and with the current pace of hiring, Croatia will achieve that average in 60 years' time, Prasnjak said.

Croatia's accession to the EU has additionally worsened the problem of nurses looking for work abroad. The union said that in the last year and a half more than 950 nurses had left the country in search of employment in other EU member states.

It called on the Health Ministry to analyse the situation, establish the exact number of employed nurses and draw up a ten-year strategy for their education and employment.

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