Nursing shortages driven by understaffed hospitals nationwide

Overworked and understaffed health-care workers leaving their jobs over poor working conditions are becoming more alarming to health advocates, who are calling for federal help to address a Canada-wide nurses shortage.

“We have to fix the workplace in our health-care system right now, it’s an urgent issue,” Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union (CFNU), told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.

The urgency for action has been long overdue, Silas says, as the Canadian medical field has been facing staffing shortages since before the pandemic that wasn’t addressed before COVID made matters worse.

“Now Canadians can’t get their surgeries, can’t get their specialized treatments, we have ERs closing across the country and the big reason is that we don’t have enough for nurses,” she said.

A survey conducted by the Canadian Union of Public Employees this year found that 87 per cent of 2,600 registered practical nurses in hospitals considered quitting their jobs after facing poor working conditions and abuse from patient’s families.

Understaffing has become an even bigger issue over the pandemic as many workers have been left feeling burnt out and unable to provide patients with quality care when they become overworked, Silas said.

“We cannot let 20 percent of our workforce retire early. We cannot let one in two nurses leave, our system will collapse completely,” she said.

In June, Statistics Canada reported an all-time high of job vacancies within the health sector as 136,800 positions were reported in the first quarter of 2022; a nearly 91 per cent increase since the first quarter of 2020. Additionally, over 50 per cent of nurses claim their mental health has become worse compared to what it used to be before the pandemic.

Along with the CFNU, the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) hoped to gain the attention of Canada’s premier at the Council of the Federation meeting on Monday, highlighting their own recommendations to address the crisis including fast-tracking internationally educated nurses to work in hospitals and providing mental health support to current health-care workers.

Silas, attended the meeting, said in a statement on the federation’s website that Canada’s premier will be gathering at a “critical” moment for the nation’s health care system.

“It’s time for federal, provincial and territorial governments to listen to frontline nurses and work with us on urgent solutions. We have no time to waste,” she said.