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July 11, 2024

Canada’s nurses unions push premiers on a bold vision for the future of public health care

Council of the Federation

The following opinion editorial first appeared in iPolitics on July 4, 2024.

Canada’s nurses unions push premiers on a bold vision for the future of public health care

By Linda Silas

Canada needs a bold vision for the future of our health care. Amidst an ongoing staffing crisis, the cracks in our public health care systems have only grown deeper and wider, with too many going without the care they need when they need it.

These cracks are symptoms of an incomplete health care system. I first noticed it when I was nursing at the bedside: patients ending up in the emergency room with dire illnesses that could have been prevented if they had a primary care provider monitoring early symptoms. I know for nurses and health care workers across the country, this experience is all too familiar.

Now COVID-19 has laid bare the shameful state of seniors’ care, particularly in for-profit long-term care homes who were found to have lower staffing levels, less care hours delivered to residents, and consequently higher mortality rates.

Decades of living through a growing crisis in health care might make it feel like this is just the way it is. But with a bold vision and strong leaders to back it, we can ensure everyone in Canada has access to care at all ages.

Dr. Jane Philpott’s prescription for a healthier Canada, where everyone in Canada accesses primary care in a system organized by postal codes, provides a bright light for what the future of health care could look like.

Imagine, you’re planning to have children and your nurse practitioner provides you primary care right in your community. If you need the support, a physiotherapist, a dietitian, a mental health worker are all a part of your care team. Your parents decide to move closer to you so they can be a bigger part of their grandchildren’s lives, and your parents can switch primary care providers without languishing on a waitlist for years. As your kids grow and your parents age, you can readily access home care or community-based care so your parents can age in the right place with the right support readily available.

This is what a strong health care system could look like.

Of course, access to care relies on nurses and health care workers. The nursing shortage extends to primary care, with a lack of opportunities for nurse practitioners to practice to their full scope and help ease the primary care crisis.

Moreover, access to care relies on safe staffing. Years of unsafe working conditions and insufficient staffing are pushing nurses out of our public health care system.

Staffing shortages have been persistent, but they’re far from insurmountable. By implementing evidence-backed retention initiatives, such as mandatory nurse-patient ratios, governments and employers can turn the tide on health care staffing. Working collaboratively, we can make health care jobs the best jobs in our communities.

As the Premiers prepare for their Council of the Federation meetings, I urge them to stand up to the challenge and commit to a bold vision for public health care. One that includes access to care for everyone at all ages.