RECRUITMENT agency Aseana HR Consultants could be the first here to bring in only skilled health-care workers for households.

It does not market the caregivers as maids, although they come in under the foreign domestic worker scheme.

This is because all its caregivers are skilled health-care workers who are nurses or physiotherapists in the Philippines, or have attended an accredited six-month caregiver course there, said Ms Thess Lagdameo, managing director of the company. Since it started providing the service last month, it has signed up five families. She added that it gets an average of 20 requests a day for the caregivers.

The families pay between $600 and $1,000 a month, depending on the skills and experience of the caregiver.

These caregivers also have to do household chores.

Filipino and Indonesian maids are paid $450 to $500 on average a month.

Ms Fauziah Tokimin, 40, a personal assistant, employed a caregiver for her bedbound father from the company last month. She forks out $700 a month for the caregiver with two years of experience as a nurse in the Philippines.

"I don't mind paying more for her skills as it is still cheaper than nursing homes or home-care services and she is around to help out all day," she said. "I had two regular maids before but I didn't trust them to administer the insulin jabs or tube feeding."

When The Straits Times contacted several maid agencies, they said requests for caregivers have risen by 5 to 20 per cent over the past two years. But the problem is finding enough maids with nursing backgrounds.

"We are considering bringing in skilled caregivers but competition is stiff as other countries and local hospitals are fighting for them," said Nation Employment managing director Gary Chin.

Mr Benny Liew, director of Comfort Employment, said the more qualified workers, mostly from the Philippines, would rather work in nursing homes or hospitals.

"Not many will want to be labelled as maids, working long hours without any prospects of career advancement," he said, adding that those who may not mind are those who do not meet the admission criteria of nursing homes and hospitals.

Most of these nursing positions require them to be registered nurses with a diploma or degree in nursing and prior working experience.

Ms Lenie Saben, who has a degree in nursing, is one of them.

"I couldn't become a nurse in a hospital so I opted for this middle ground. At least we are paid more than the regular maid," said the 26-year-old Filipina.