Manitoba nursing union slams province over new report showing decline in nurses

The union representing nurses in Manitoba says a new report released Thursday that shows a decrease in the number of nurses involved in direct care over the past year is "disturbing to see."

National health report shows overall decrease in province's nursing workforce, fewer nurses in direct care

A registered nurse looks at a patient's feet on May 1, 2019, at Sunshine House in Winnipeg. ( Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

The union representing nurses in Manitoba says a new report released Thursday that shows a decrease in the number of nurses employed in the province over the past year is "disturbing to see."

The province, though, argues the data in the report "could be misunderstood."

The Canadian Institute for Health Information's report shows the overall nursing workforce in Manitoba has decreased by more than 550, from 16,622 in 2017 to 16,065 in 2018.

"It's very disturbing to see we do have less nurses in the system at this time," Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union said.

"Nurses are basically the Band-Aid that's holding a broken system together with overtime and increased workloads. And that's not something that makes it easy to recruit or retain nurses in our province."

The institute's data includes registered nurses, nurse practitioners, licensed practical nurses and registered psychiatric nurses.

The report also says the total number of employed nurses involved in directly caring for patients dropped to 14,304 in 2018 from 14,814 in 2017, a decrease of 510. 

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson calls the decline in the number of nurses providing direct care 'disturbing.' (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Direct care is defined as any nurse working in a myriad of fields, including hospitals, home care, rehabilitation and addiction services.

The number of nurses working in hospitals, community health and nursing homes also fell. 

Overall, the number of registered nurses and psychiatric nurses is declining, while the number of licensed practical nurses is going up in Manitoba, according to the national health institute's report. That's a trend seen across the country. 

Licensed practical nurses are limited in the type of medical care and assistance they can provide to patients. They do not carry as much responsibility or perform the same higher-level duties as registered nurses.

The Manitoba NDP criticized Premier Brian Pallister Thursday for cutting nursing jobs, which Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said leaves the province's health care system in a "dangerous situation for Manitoba nurses and patients" amid ER closures and cuts to the sector.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew accused the regional health authority of spinning the numbers to defend the province. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

"For a number of years we've heard that surgeries are being cancelled, that patients are waiting longer in emergency rooms, and that health care is getting worse in Manitoba. And today we finally have an explanation for why."

More nursing positions filled: WRHA

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority declined an interview, but provided its own numbers in an emailed statement.

"When it comes to nurses working within the publicly funded health-care system in Winnipeg, there were 201 more nursing positions filled within the WRHA in 2018 than there were in 2017," Lori Lamont, the health authority's chief nursing officer and chief operating officer said in a statement.

The health authority says a total of 8,025 nursing positions were filled in 2018 — up from 7,824 in 2017.

The WRHA's numbers say the number of registered nurse positions filled was virtually unchanged from 2017 — when there were 6,615 RNs — to 2018, when there were 6,614 RN positions filled.

The health authority's figures are based on workforce numbers reported to the province, Lamont said.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information report, she said, shows the number of nurses working in Winnipeg and captures nursing numbers for both private and publicly funded health-care employers. That would include nurses working at private doctors' offices and clinics in the city that do not report to the health authority, Lamont said.

Kinew accused the regional health authority of doing "damage control" on behalf of the province.

'A job for every nurse who wants one': minister

"The claims made by Mr. Kinew and other critics are simply wrong," Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in an emailed statement.

Friesen also stood by the health authority's nursing numbers.

"The data included in this CIHI report could be misunderstood," the health minister's statement said.

"This CIHI data includes 535 nurses who did not indicate where they are working within the province," Friesen said.

"These nurses are indeed working, but for employers [other] than the regional health authority, including nursing agencies, private doctors' offices, and surgery clinics," the statement said. 

"To be clear, there are more nurses working today than one year ago," the health minister said. 

"We've continued to be clear there is a job for every nurse who wants one within the WRHA."

With files from Laura Glowacki