The supply of nurses in Canada has declined for the first time in almost 20 years, according to a new report that has prompted two prominent national nursing organizations to warn that the country needs to improve the management of its health-care work force.
The latest snapshot of the nursing field from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found that in 2014, more nurses left the profession than entered it.
At the same time, the number of nurses actually working in the field continued to climb last year, up 2.2 per cent from 2013, in keeping with the stable growth of the past 10 years.
“The sum of all the numbers is a tightening nursing labour market,” Karima Velji, president of the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), said in a statement. The CNA is a professional organization that advocates for nurse-friendly public policy.
Andrea Porter-Chapman, CIHI’s manager of health work force information, said it is too early to say whether the dip in supply marks the start of a nursing shortage in Canada or a one-year blip thanks to a regulatory change in Ontario.
In 2014, the College of Nurses of Ontario put in place a new rule that doesn’t allow members to renew their licenses unless they have practiced nursing in the province in the past three years. That contributed to 15,836 nurses formally exiting the profession in Ontario in one year.
The supply of nurses has dropped in six jurisdictions: Newfoundland and Labrador (down 0.7 per cent), Prince Edward Island (down 3.5 per cent), New Brunswick (down 0.9 per cent), Ontario (down 2.6 per cent), British Columbia (down 0.9 per cent) and the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, which together saw a decrease of 3.2 per cent.
Also, the number of students admitted to entry-level nursing programs actually declined between 2009-2010 and 2010-2011, the most recent year for which CIHI was able to obtain national figures.
The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), an organization representing almost 200,000 nurses and nursing students from eight provincial unions, said the decline in supply may already be leading to increased overtime and absenteeism.
The CFNU’s latest report found that nurses across the country worked more than 19 million hours of overtime in 2014, 20 per cent of it unpaid.
“The decrease in the nursing supply combined with an aging work force and fewer students admitted to [entry-level nursing] programs is a sign that our health-care work force is in transition,” CFNU president Linda Silas said in an e-mailed statement. “To ensure patient safety and a sustainable health-care system, we need a national health human resources plan.”
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