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Canada’s response to nursing shortage lacks urgency and co-ordination

January 14, 2023

By Vancouver Sun |

It’s hard to assess how well Canada is faring in the cutthroat, global competition to attract nurses, who are essential to sustaining a health-care system that was already threadbare and battered before COVID-19.

The pandemic not only focused attention on the nursing shortage, it hastened the retirement of thousands fed up with the increased demands. It had cascading effects on those who remained on the job, not least of which was longer hours in evermore demanding situations.

Because of shortages, a quarter of all Canadian nurses routinely worked overtime. In British Columbia, nurses averaged more than three hours of overtime a week. That’s more than in any other province or territory.

In the last five years, British Columbia has moved from last in Canada in terms of nurses per capita to first. Not that it matters, as Health Minister Adrian Dix himself noted this week.

What matters is that there is still a desperate shortage. The B.C. Nurses’ Union has 48,000 members, but there are currently 5,200 jobs with no one to fill them. By 2031, British Columbia will need 26,000 new nurses.

It’s the same story across the country and around the world where the global nursing shortfall last year was estimated at 5.9 million. Seven years from now, it’s forecast to rise to 10.6 million.

For decades, Canada has relied on immigration to solve its labour shortages. Now, it’s thrown open the doors with the goal of attracting an historic high of 500,000 immigrants every year for the next four years. Many of the hoped-for immigrants are health-care workers.

But there’s a glaring flaw in our fragmented federation’s approach to both immigration and health care.

There is no single, affordable or efficient pathway for any foreign-trained professionals — let alone nurses or physicians — to have their credentials accepted once they get here.

Rather than insisting on national standards and respecting the constitutional guarantee of labour mobility, provinces and territories have added to the fragmentation by empowering regulatory colleges to set their own standards and rules for assessing and registering professionals.

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