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November 3, 2023

Canada’s frontline nurses issue open letter to premiers; demand action on nursing shortage

November 3, 2023

Open Letter to Canada’s Premiers

Ahead of your meeting with fellow premiers starting on Sunday in Halifax, we wanted to reiterate the urgency behind taking bold and comprehensive action to address the nursing shortage crisis.

Nurses can only tolerate unhealthy and unsafe working conditions for so long, which is why such an alarming number have left their jobs in the public system to work for costly private agencies or have abandoned the profession altogether.

A couple of weeks ago, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) sounded the alarm on hospital staffing challenges during the pandemic and which are ongoing, including increased rates of potentially preventable harm to patients. Patient safety suffers when nurses are overworked and when there are insufficient numbers of them on the unit.

We are encouraged that significant time is devoted to discussing solutions to this crisis at the upcoming meeting of the Council of the Federation. However, in the absence of concrete steps presented to our members – who continue to sacrifice their own needs and well-being to serve our communities – countless more will jump ship in the weeks and months ahead.

We call on you to urgently finalize your province’s action plan, detailing the initiatives you will implement in support of nurses as part of the bilateral agreement you signed with the federal government early this year.

The retention of nurses must be prioritized in the action plan, as well as investments in recruitment from within our population. Siphoning human resources from underprivileged countries – which are experiencing their own staffing shortages – is not a sustainable, adequate or ethical solution to the crisis we find ourselves in.

Nurses’ unions remain committed to working closely with all provincial governments to help plan and implement leading practices and initiatives to address the punishing workloads of our members.

We continue to press all provinces to swiftly carry out the following actions.

  • Enact safe nurse-to-patient ratios, following leading jurisdictions on health human resource planning around the world;
  • Develop a comprehensive health human resource plan in coordination with federal, provincial and territorial governments, with guidance from Health Canada’s Nursing Retention Toolkit;
  • Strengthen support for nursing students and the mentors who help integrate them into the profession;
  • Regulate safe hours of continuous work for nurses to ensure legal safeguards are in place to protect patients and workers from dangerously long shifts;
  • Phase out private staffing agencies, which misdirect health funding to private for‑profit interests;
  • Bolster mental health supports and services that nurses can readily access, such as internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy; and
  • Tackle startling rates of violence against nurses by upgrading infrastructure and training for violence prevention and de-escalation programs, hiring well-trained and designated safety personnel in workplaces, and raising awareness of existing legal protections among law enforcement and the broader public.

    We look forward to seeing your communique from next week’s meeting, and working with you on addressing the many challenges before us that require our urgent attention. 


    Linda Silas
    President Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions

    Angela Preocanin
    Secretary-Treasurer Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions

    Barbara Brookins
    President Prince Edward Island Nurses’ Union

    Erin Ariss
    President Ontario Nurses’ Association

    Yvette Coffey
    President Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland & Labrador

    Darlene Jackson
    President Manitoba Nurses Union

    Janet Hazelton
    President Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union

    Tracy Zambory
    President Saskatchewan Union of Nurses

    Heather Smith
    President United Nurses of Alberta

    Adriane Gear
    President British Columbia Nurses’ Union

    Eyasu Yakob
    President Canadian Nursing Students’s Association