The overtime bill for nurses at Capital Health is expected to top $6 million this year.

Health authority CEO Chris Power revealed the number Wednesday at a meeting of an all-party committee of the legislature.

Power said about 71 per cent of the health authority's nurses work some overtime.

"Of those working overtime, two-thirds work fewer than 25 hours of overtime during the year," she said. "The projected cost of nursing overtime for 2012 is about $6.5 million."

Nevertheless, Power added, overtime costs are down about 30 per cent over the last three years.

The health authority — Nova Scotia's largest — budgets for overtime costs.

Few new nurses this year

Capital Health also said it will not hire many new nurses this year. Power said Halifax-area hospitals have just 20 full-time jobs to fill. Up to 80 new jobs have been available in recent years.

The sparse openings are due to veteran nurses working past retirement age and there being little new money to hire the 60 or 80 nurses the district usually needs each year.

"Because of the restraint or the constraint on our budget, we don't have that extra money to do that this time around," Power said.

The increasing average age of the workforce is also a cause for concern, said Liberal MLA Kelly Regan.

  • The average full-time nurse is aged 43
  • Casual nurses are about 50 years old
  • Some nurses are working into their 70s

"It's like the teaching profession. You want some new blood in there always coming in. They bring new ideas," Regan said.

Power agreed a steady flow of new nurses would improve the system.  

"If we had our druthers, this would not be the case. We would be bringing more nurses and others into our fold, there's no question about that," she said.

She said it was not clear when the hospitals would be hiring again at regular levels.