January 14, 2022

Canada’s nurses: it’s time to hit the brakes

January 13, 2022 (OTTAWA, ON) – Canada’s nurses are alarmed at the rapid spread of Omicron across Canada. Immediate and decisive action is urgently needed to keep our health care system from crumbling under the weight of this highly infectious variant.

“This isn’t the time to be pussyfooting around,” declared Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions. “The combination of a highly transmissible variant along with a nationwide nursing shortage is a recipe for disaster.”

The nurses’ organization is calling on governments to immediately adopt circuit-breaker measures to slow down community spread. Cases have ballooned across Canada, with many hospitals already at capacity.

“As unpalatable as it sounds, we need to bring back the strategies that helped us beat back earlier waves,” explained Silas. “As much as possible, we need Canadians to stay home and minimize their contacts.”

Sadly, hospitals should once again look at postponing non-urgent surgeries to bolster the amount of health care staff available to tend to COVID patients and others requiring emergency care.

Nurses are equally unnerved by the dominant narrative that Omicron is “mild” and therefore doesn’t require robust mitigation strategies. While the variant may be milder as compared to its predecessors, it is still deadly and it still has the potential to bring our health care system to its knees. Meanwhile, the public has yet to fully absorb the fact that COVID-19 is airborne, largely due to governments’ unclear messaging around how the virus spreads and a failure to acknowledge the current scientific consensus.

“It is absolutely reckless to throw our hands up and accept that more Canadians will contract COVID‑19 – that more Canadians will die,” said Silas.

Meanwhile, as nurses rush to battle the fifth wave, they continue to needlessly be put in harm’s way. Governments have failed to prioritize health care workers for booster shots. Similarly, health care workers still have difficulty obtaining proper PPE – this despite greater calls for the public to “upgrade” their PPE to better protect themselves against Omicron.

“We’re seeing patients show up at vaccination clinics wearing better PPE than what is being given to nurses,” explained Silas. “It’s unconscionable that nurses and health care workers, almost two years into the pandemic, are still having to fight for N95s and other PPE.”

“If this isn’t addressed, we will keep losing health care workers to illness, and patients won’t get the care they need.”

The CFNU has also opposed having health care workers care for patients while positive for COVID-19. The nursing shortage is leading many jurisdictions to make unthinkable, hazardous and short-sighted decisions. This move puts patients at risk and makes hospital-wide outbreaks more likely.

“These aren’t decisions you make in a functional health care sector,” explained Silas. “Let’s be clear: this is dangerous, and we’re in this position because governments have ignored the nursing shortage for far too long.”

“Nurses are at their breaking point. They feel abandoned and unsupported. Our elected leaders need to step up; our health care system depends on it.”

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The CFNU is Canada’s largest nurses’ organization, representing about 200,000 nurses and student nurses, and advocating on key health priorities and federal engagement in public health care.

For more information, please contact:
Ben René, brene@nursesunions.ca, 613-406-5962