St. John’s – With over 136,000 residents in Newfoundland and Labrador without a primary healthcare provider, the Registered Nurses Union (RNU) of NL is seeking an explanation on why government has still not presented a strategy for the better utilization of nurse practitioners (NPs). The provincial government announced in November 2022 that it was immediately taking steps to increase the number of NPs in the health care system and would be introducing NP-led clinics to improve access to primary care.
“We have been advocating for Nurse Practitioners to be better utilized for years,” said Yvette Coffey, RNU President. “These extremely vital health care professionals are not able to work to their full scope in many instances, and here we are with a healthcare system that is desperate for stability. NPs could provide such relief to so many, especially in rural areas and in emergency departments if they were just utilized in a more effective manner.”
In January of 2023, RNU sent a letter to the Minister of Health asking for an update on government’s commitment to enhance NP recruitment efforts and introduce NP-led clinics, but there has been no response. The union is hoping to see more NPs given the ability to provide primary health care to the many who are currently going without. Creating NP-led clinics would allow for strain to be taken of the system and would also inspire more NPs to either stay in the province or feel encouraged to come and work here.
“The Health Accord has demonstrated an understanding of the value of NPs with several recommendations, including establishing 35 collaborative team clinics and increasing NP staffing in long-term care. Without NPs, these recommendations can not be met,” added Coffey. “This is also true for the new Family Care clinics, which were recently announced by government. We need an update that we can share with our membership, that would in-turn help with retention and recruitment efforts of NPs. This is something that needs to be prioritized. Right now, NPs in this province are the lowest paid in the country. Creating jobs and providing competitive salaries could be a significant effort in stabilizing healthcare for NL.”
Furthermore, research shows that residents are in favour of the initiative. A survey conducted during the summer of 2022 showed that 83% of the public said they would support the introduction of publicly funded NP-led clinics.
“NPs need to see progress being made to meet this commitment made by the provincial government. The RNU is strongly urging government to release an update as to where the strategy is and what timelines look like,” added Coffey. “This is critical.”
In the recent healthcare-focused Budget announced by the provincial government, there was funding earmarked for adding more seats to the NP Program at MUN. GovNL has suggested this investment will add more NPs to the healthcare system.
“With the staffing shortages and increased demands on the system, many RNs are unable to get time off to enter and complete the NP program right now. If fact, we have heard of nurses having to leave the program to fulfill work commitments. So, doubling the capacity in the program won’t have significant impacts if systemic issues aren’t addressed at the same time,” adds Coffey. “This province needs more NPs working to their full scope, but in the current environment that just isn’t happening and there needs to be a more strategic and fulsome plan in place.”