Without nurses, we don’t have a health care system at all.
As Canada’s premiers gather virtually today to talk about health care, Canada’s nurses have a clear message for them: our public health systems are in crisis. At the heart of this crisis is a dire shortage of nurses and other health care professionals.
Nurses are burning out in record numbers. Those left behind work endless shifts and are hanging on by a thread after 22 gruelling months on the front lines of an unprecedented pandemic. Stress and exhaustion among nurses were reaching record levels even before COVID-19 hit, but now a shocking 94% report symptoms of burnout. The situation has gone from bad to worse – at warp speed.
Fallout is being felt by health professionals and the people they care for in every community, in every province and territory across the country. From Biggar and Assiniboia, Saskatchewan, to Baie Verte and Bell Island, Newfoundland, we’re hearing about hospitals forced to cut services or shut down entirely because of shortages of nurses and doctors.
The reality is, we have no health care system without the nurses and health professionals who keep it going, day in, day out.
Things didn’t get this bad by accident. Today’s crisis was years in the making. Years of underinvestment. Years of inadequate planning. Years of creeping privatization. Years of weakened or fragmented regulation.
Well before the pandemic laid bare our broken health system, nurses have been sounding a warning about looming nursing shortages. But nurses’ warnings, sadly, fell on deaf ears.
As the premiers meet this week, we ask them how they can expect nurses to just keep going, time and again asked to do more overtime, cover more shifts and make more extraordinary personal sacrifices. With no end in sight.
Canada’s nurses are looking to our country’s leaders to not only learn the right lessons from 22 months of pandemic but also acknowledge the past failures that led us here.
There’s a growing national consensus that substantial increases to health transfers from the federal government are needed. But we cannot afford for some provinces to take this funding and, instead of investing in stronger public health care, just add it to general revenues. Or worse, use if for backwards policies like tax giveaways to people and corporations who don’t need it.
A no-strings-attached approach lacks accountability and isn’t fair either to nurses doing their best just to hang on or to Canadians concerned about the future of their health care.
So how can federal and provincial decision-makers help?
Canadians must have confidence our leaders are pulling together behind solutions that will work. This means our country’s leaders working with nurses and other health professionals on a new approach to health human resources planning.
This begins with a new retention and recruitment strategy that responds to the current and future needs of our aging population, the cornerstone of ensuring the well-being and sustainability of our nursing workforce for years to come.
This means better data, so we can predict future needs and develop research-based solutions. This will help us develop concrete solutions that address the health care challenges facing our own community. And this means solutions backed by sufficient funding and greater accountability.
Without these pieces in place, we simply cannot reassure Canadians that high-quality public health care will be there for them when they need it.