We’re already in the next health care crisis.
Canada is facing a critical nursing shortage: nurses are overworked, underpaid, burnt out, and many are unable to take time off due to a lack of staff.
The nursing shortage has reached a dangerous tipping point. Even before the pandemic, 83% of nurses reported that there were not enough health care staff to meet the needs of patients. Clinical levels of burnout are at an all-time high. The long-term care crisis continues, with deadly consequences.
Overtime and workloads were already high pre-pandemic. Since the pandemic began, this situation has worsened significantly, with dramatic increases in both overtime and workloads, made worse by the shortage and increases in vacant nurse positions.
In the first quarter of 2021, Statistics Canada reported that the number of vacancies in health care and social assistance stood at about 100,000: RNs and RPNs had the highest year-over-year increase in vacancies, with almost half of these vacancies remaining open for 90 days or more.
Canadian nurses’ average weekly overtime hours increased by 78% during the pandemic, from 5.8 hours in May 2019 to 10.3 hours in May 2020. Overtime was even more significant in Ontario and Quebec, surging by 109% and 173% respectively during the same period.
Nurses have faced extended days – routinely working up to 24-hour shifts, and have experienced very high patient- and resident-to-staff ratios.
The shortage hurts nurses and patients: it has had far-reaching and damaging effects on workers’ mental health and well-being, as well as on the care available to their patients and clients.
The shortage is costly: billions are spent every year by governments on overtime, because many employers use a ‘just in time’ approach to scheduling rather than providing the nurse staffing required to meet population health needs.
Prior to the pandemic, a staggering 60% of nurses said they intended to leave their jobs within the next year, and more than one quarter of these nurses wanted to leave the profession altogether.
For too long, elected officials have socially distanced themselves from these problems. It’s time to fix the cracks and get Canada’s health care system back on track.