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October 12, 2023

Canada’s nurses unions bring nursing shortage solutions to health ministers at policy briefing

Health Human Resources
Media Release

Silas: Growing reliance on private staffing agencies and excessive hours of work are failing patients and nurses across Canada.

October 12, 2023 (CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I.) – Phasing out private nursing agencies and ensuring safe hours of work were the focus of today’s policy briefing between Canada’s union nurses and federal, provincial and territorial health ministers.

“Relying on private nurse agencies to fill ongoing staffing needs is both unsustainable and an irresponsible use of taxpayer’s money,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU). “Ensuring permanent health care jobs in our communities are good, attractive jobs is critical to both retaining nurses and putting an end to this expensive overreliance on private staffing agencies.”

As the nursing shortage continues to grow unabated, health care employers across the country have increased their reliance on private nursing agencies – at a high cost to taxpayers and our public health care system:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador spent $100 million on private nurse agencies in 2022.
  • Ontario spent $174 million on private nurse agencies in 2022, four times more than the year before.
  • British Columbia spent $146 million between 2019 and 2023, compared to $8.7 million in years prior.

Years of persistent underfunding and the rising pressures of COVID-19 have created untenable working conditions, fueling the exodus of nurses from the health care system. Now, four in 10 nurses are considering leaving their workplace, with seven in 10 citing insufficient staffing levels and high workloads as the top reasons in a recent CFNU survey.

“Overwhelmed ERs, delayed surgeries, long wait times and dwindling access to care in rural communities have become the norm. The effects of understaffing are severe and far-reaching,” explained Silas. “In the absence of staff to replace nurses when their shifts end, 24-hour shifts are becoming more and more common. It’s not safe for nurses, and it’s certainly not safe for patients.”

The CFNU is calling on provinces and territories to use the recent increase to the Canada Health Transfer to bolster the nursing workforce by investing in strong retention initiatives, enabling a robust recovery of the country’s health care systems.

“As governments focus on completing the recovery of our health care systems, retaining nurses in the public health system through proven strategies is crucial to creating concrete change,” said Silas. “Sustainable solutions to the staffing crisis are within reach, and Canada’s union nurses are ready to work with provinces to end this crisis.”


The CFNU is Canada’s largest nurses’ organization, representing 250,000 frontline unionized nurses and nursing students in every sector of health care – from home care and LTC to community and acute care – and advocating on key priorities to strengthen public health care across the country.

For more information please contact Adella Khan, CFNU Communications,, 613‑807-2942.