The BC Nurses’ Union welcomes the health-care system investments contained in Budget 2019, but remains concerned that there won’t be enough nurses to staff the facilities and programs British Columbians rely on.
“The health minister has made a number of high-profile announcements signaling the government’s commitment to public health care,” says BCNU treasurer Sharon Sponton. “So we are looking closely at this year’s budget to see what kinds of health human resource investments are being made to address the province’s nurse shortage, and it does not look promising.”
Last year the provincial government made several investments in the health-care system, including infrastructure improvements, the opening of urgent care primary care centres and the launching of a new surgical strategy aimed at reducing wait times for hip and knee operations.
But Sponton worries about the effect this expansion will have on nurses’ working conditions and notes that even though BC leads the country in economic growth, the province has the lowest number of registered and licensed practical nurses working in direct care, with 889 RNs and LPNs per 100,000 people.
She says health employers are running the system using overtime in order to keep hospitals staffed, a costly approach to management that is driven by an acute shortage of specialty-educated nurse positions, such as emergency and operating room nurses.
“For nurses, long shifts and extended workweeks have become an almost permanent part of what it means to work within BC’s health-care system,” says Sponton. “There simply aren’t enough of us to go around, and the resulting workloads are bad for patient care and harmful to caregivers.”
Sponton argues that urgent education investments are needed, and points to the government’s 2018 Labour Market Outlook that lists nursing as a high-demand profession, with upwards of 25,000 nurses required to staff BC’s health care system over the next 10 years. This includes new nurse positions and the replacement of retiring nurses.
“We believe these are conservative estimates, and it’s reasonable to ask if they take into account increased demand on the heath-care system due to shifting demographics such as the aging population.”
Sponton says the nurse staffing crisis is the worst in the north, with some areas short more than 20 percent of their RN workforce. “Nurses are the backbone of our health-care system, and we need to make sure that public investments come with the education funding needed to ensure nurses are available to provide the safe patient care British Columbians deserve.”
Contact: Lew MacDonald, BCNU Communications 604-209-5375.
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