Nova Scotia

Patient safety questioned as Capital Health cuts back

Nova Scotia's largest health authority is cutting back on overtime costs after paying out $2.8 million in the last three months. Opposition parties say budget cuts could put patients at risk.

Capital Health District Health Authority tries to curb overtime pay

The overtime bill for nurses at Capital Health is expected to top $6 million this year. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Nova Scotia's largest health authority is putting the brakes on overtime costs, but the province’s opposition parties say budget cuts could put patients at risk.

All of the province’s health authorities were told they'll get a zero per cent budget increase over the next year. For the Halifax-based Capital District Health Authority, that means finding an extra $12.7 million to cover rising costs.

Worsening the situation is a $2.8 million overtime bill for April, May and June.

The authority is implementing strict new rules to cut its overtime costs.

In a memo to managers, Paula Bond, vice-president of people-centred care, said "only managers will have authority to approve overtime Monday to Friday and the first sick call will only be replaced in exceptional circumstances."

The Aug. 2 memo warns if the overtime trend continues, more assertive measures might have to be considered.

Health Minister Dave Wilson said Capital Health is working hard to keep costs under control.

"I have confidence that the capital district [is] ensuring that patient safety is at the forefront of any decision they make around overtime and filling of shifts," he said.

But Nova Scotia’s opposition parties say the cutbacks could be detrimental.

"The minister can say that but if you're going to cut back and not replace people that are off sick then there's a worry you're not going to have the appropriate staffing on site for people who are ill," said Liberal MLA Diana Whalen.

Progressive-Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie said he blames the province’s delay in approving health authorities’ business plans.

"We need a whole new way of managing our hospitals that starts with cutting the administration, the ten authorities themselves down to three, as we have proposed and using the money to properly fund our hospitals so that there are enough nurses that we don’t need all this overtime," he said.

No one from Capital Health was available for comment.