This Op-ed was posted December 16, 2022 via Saltwire. Click here to read.
‘Instead of bolstering the pockets of private for-profit companies, we need to keep RNs and other health professionals working in our public system here’ says Registered Nurses’ Union NL president Yvette Coffey
The fight for public health care is on. And we all need to raise our voice.
A health-care system in crisis is making it easy for governments to pave the way for privatization. Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s plans for health care? User fees, co-pays, and slyly delisting services covered by health insurance by redefining them.
In Ontario, Doug Ford’s wage cap for public-sector workers and rising investment in private clinics and travel nursing is pushing the public health-care system to collapse.
Canada’s health care crisis was years in the making thanks to inadequate health human resource planning, a failure to improve working conditions, and unsafe staffing levels. The pandemic just tipped things over the edge and made privatization the low-hanging fruit. Yet, private solutions are exorbitantly expensive and ineffective. They waste precious taxpayer dollars by driving up vacancies within the public system, making the health care crisis worse.
We are seeing this right here in Newfoundland and Labrador. In less than one year, the regional health authorities spent $8.8 million on private travel nurses. These travel nurses work side-by-side with registered nurses (RNs) facing enormous pressure to care for patients in communities throughout our province. They get paid twice as much or more and have actual control over their life and schedule.
Fonemed, operator of the 811 Healthline, has a five-year contract with the provincial government for $31 million. The company has been hiring RNs and nurse practitioners (NPs) hand over fist. With a nursing shortage crippling our province and country, where are the RNs and NPs coming from? Our own public health-care system. That’s where.
Three hundred RNs have left Newfoundland and Labrador’s public system, retired early, or gone casual so far this year. Mandatory overtime, 24-hour shifts, high levels of violence, and no access to leave — is it any wonder RNs are leaving in record numbers?
Joint research conducted with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador in March shows 90 per cent of RNs and NPs have experienced burnout due to working conditions. Seventy per cent experienced violence in a one-month period. Further research shows 88 per cent of RNs and NPs believe understaffing has resulted in unsafe conditions for patients. A staggering 40 per cent plan to leave our health care system if working conditions don’t improve.
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians don’t want privatization. They don’t want to call 811 and be advised to see a family doctor they don’t have or visit an emergency room with no staff. They want better health care. Privatization won’t get us there. Instead of bolstering the pockets of private for-profit companies, we need to keep RNs and other health professionals working in our public system here in Newfoundland and Labrador.
The province has stepped up recruitment efforts, which is encouraging, but the bigger challenge is keeping new recruits and experienced RNs. To do this, we need to improve workplaces and show RNs and others they are valued and respected. Right now, our RNs and NPs are the lowest paid in the country. We need to offer competitive wages, retention incentives and address violence in the workplace. We need to support all health professionals to provide quality patient care and have balance in their lives. We also need to look for solutions within the public system, not outside it.
Mandatory overtime, 24-hour shifts, high levels of violence, and no access to leave — is it any wonder RNs are leaving in record numbers?
For years, the Registered Nurses’ Union (RNU) has been calling for NPs to be allowed to operate clinics under the public system in response to the critical shortage of primary health-care providers throughout the province. Plans to introduce NP clinics were finally announced this fall, yet to our knowledge clinics are not set up and 125,000 residents still don’t have a primary health-care provider.
We all have a part to play in the fight for better health care. The time to speak up is now. Join the Registered Nurses’ Union in the fight to fix health care. Visit BeyondBroken.ca & #RaiseYourVocieNL.