Stop the political games and work together - or face the utter collapse of our public health care

  • National Newswatch

Federal, provincial and territorial governments must work together with frontline nurses to fix the health care crisis.

A mother in Ottawa waits ten hours in an emergency room for their child to be seen. People in a rural Newfoundland community worry about getting care for loved ones after their hospital's ER is shuttered for months on end. One Sunday morning, a hospital in Red Deer warns patients of 17 hour wait times.

As you wait for your loved ones to get care, the last thing you are thinking about are federal-provincial funding agreements. And the last thing you want to hear are governments going back and forth with finger pointing about who's to blame. You just want your loved ones to get the quality care they deserve.

But as federal, provincial, and territorial ministers gather in Vancouver this week, the decisions they make can mean the difference between your loved ones getting the care they need, or not.

No one understands the difficult reality of our health care crisis more than the frontline nurses caring for patients. Nurses are the largest group of regulated health professionals in Canada. We have no health care system without nurses.

But nurses, overworked even before the pandemic, have experienced years of forced overtime, difficult working conditions, and increasing rates of violence and abuse. Their physical and mental health has pushed them to the breaking point. And as nursing shortages grow, so does the burnout rate amongst nurses – 50% higher since before the pandemic.

While nurses are leaving the profession in droves, we are seeing record high vacancy rates for nursing positions across the country. In the last year alone, another 1700 Canadian nurses left to work in the U.S.. Meanwhile, every day, more nurses leave the public system for private agencies, driving up health costs and stretching provincial health budgets even thinner.

As bad as all these numbers are, they are just symptoms of the larger disease plaguing our health care system. The crisis we now face is the result of years of chronic underfunding, by all levels of government. Almost as bad as the lack of funding has been the lack of coordination and the inability for health authorities to learn from each other.

Things are tough right now. But make no mistake, Canada's frontline nurses are not giving up on our public health care system. We are not giving up on making sure Canadians can get the care they deserve, in the public system, for generations to come.

Nurses will be in Vancouver at the Health Ministers' Meetings this week, briefing federal, provincial, and territorial health ministers on our solutions. Nurses' evidence-based proposals are focussed on what we call the three “Rs”: Retaining nurses in the public health care system. Returning nurses who have left the profession. Recruiting the next generation of nurses.

We understand that solutions must include increased federal funding, so our health care system has the resources it needs, backed by real accountability for achieving better working conditions for nurses and improved outcomes for patients. And jurisdictions must start learning from each other's best practices, embrace proven strategies, and share critical data. This is critical for improving the retention, return and recruitment of nurses and other health professionals.

If we delay action any longer, we face the utter collapse of our public health care. We must all put aside the political games and work with urgency and common purpose to save our cherished public health care system. Before it is too late.

Linda Silas has been the President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions since 2003. She has been recognized as the foremost advocate on behalf of nurses in Canada. Linda was previously the President of the New Brunswick Nurses Union for 10 years. Linda is a graduate of l'Université de Moncton, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and has practiced in the ICU, emergency, and labour and delivery.