Addressing a nursing shortage

A frequent news topic in area newspapers in recent weeks and months have been staffing shortages on the healthcare front. The area at large has seen emergency room closures in Barriere and Ashcroft, a suspension of obstetric and prenatal care in the 100 Mile House area and, most recently, a temporary suspension of obstetric services in Williams Lake.

The situation is obviously unacceptable and it’s hard to say what local factors may have played a role but one thing that is clear is that our area is hardly the only one struggling with this issue. This week 42 patients in Halifax left the emergency room by 4 a.m. without seeing a doctor after they had just three doctors on rotation and three fewer nurses than required with 99 patients waiting. At the end of last year, a probe began into a nursing shortage at St Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver. In New Brunswick, there were reportedly 376 nursing vacancies. A nursing shortage in Grimsby led to a weekend operating room closure in February. It’s not difficult to find more examples.

To those paying attention, this is likely not surprising. If you talk to those in the industry or those studying the industry, they’ll be quick to acknowledge that staffing issues are a problem across rural B.C. According to a 2009 report by the Canadian Nurses Association, Canada needed 11,000 more full-time nurses in 2007 to meet health-care needs. The report also said that “if the health needs of Canadians continue to change according to past trends, and if no new policies are implemented, the report shows that Canada will be short almost 60,000 FTE RNs by 2022.”

This shortage is compounded by the fact that while 17 per cent of the population lived in rural or remote areas, only 11 per cent of the nursing workforce did in 2017, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). Furthermore, they add that annual growth in the supply of regulated nurses has slowed to less than 1 per cent, the lowest in the past 10 years (counting from 2017).

This is a problem that exists beyond Canada and it would be folly for a lamen to suggest a national solution to this problem. However, when it comes to solving local nursing shortages, one statistic makes it fairly clear how the situation can be improved. According to CIHI, 91 per cent of regulated nurses held a licence to practise in the jurisdiction where they completed their nursing program. In other words, if we want more local nurses, we need to make sure we have nurses graduate here.

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