Tories seek to ‘accelerate’ use of private agency nurses: NDP

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The Progressive Conservative government has been accused of doubling-down on its use of agency nurses, after Shared Health last month surveyed the private health-care firms about their capacity to prop up the public health system.

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The Progressive Conservative government has been accused of doubling-down on its use of agency nurses, after Shared Health last month surveyed the private health-care firms about their capacity to prop up the public health system.

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said a recent request for information issued by the provincial health authority is proof the Manitoba government is prioritizing private, for-profit nursing agencies over the public health-care system.

In late June, Shared Health asked nursing agencies to submit a summary of their capacity to support the health-care system and the current services being provided to the regional health authorities.

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“You have a system that’s in crisis and the PCs are proposing a course of action that is more expensive, leads to less quality of care for the patient — and so we should all be concerned about that,” said Opposition Leader Wab Kinew.

The provided information would help the health authority as it decides how to move forward with “backup nursing and health-care personnel within acute, long-term, home care, congregate” and other settings, according to the request.

“We should be looking to reduce the amount of private agency nurses, and yet this (request for information) shows that not only is that situation going to continue to increase but (Tory Premier) Heather Stefanson wants to accelerate it,” the NDP leader said during a Tuesday morning news conference at Vimy Ridge Park in Winnipeg.

“You have a system that’s in crisis and the PCs are proposing a course of action that is more expensive, leads to less quality of care for the patient — and so we should all be concerned about that.”

Nurses and other health-care professionals are being driven out of the public health system over mandated overtime and a lack of work-life balance, Kinew said. The provincial government must invest in the public health-care system and work with staff and their unions to provide better working conditions, he added.

“What we’re seeing is the use of mandatory overtime as a regular (human resources) practice to try and paper over the fact that the PCs have cut the number of nurses working at the bedside in Manitoba. It’s unacceptable,” Kinew said, noting the Tories appear to be leaning into privatized health care.

In the past fiscal year, health authorities spent more than $36 million on temporary nursing staff, a number that has grown steadily since 2017.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said the use of agency staff was intended to be a fall-back plan to ensure patient care was never compromised. Instead, the government has become content to staff its facilities with temporary workers to the point of excess, she said.

“We now live in a world where agency use has become the norm in our health-care system leaving patients without continuity of care, staff without cohesive collaboration and the public fooled into thinking the front line is okay,” Jackson said in a statement. “It is definitely not okay, and we are calling not only for information but for action.”

The Tory government has defended the increased dependency on agency staff as means to get Manitobans the care they need amid chronic staffing shortages.

At the same time, the government said it wants to increase the number of nurses on the public payroll as quickly as possible. It is also taking steps to add more nursing seats at post-secondary institutions and to allow more internationally educated nurses to work at hospitals and care homes.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Shared Health said it is also committed to cutting the province’s dependency on agency staff through various nurse recruitment and retention initiatives.

The purpose of the request was to standardize agreements and to better understand agency service providers in an effort to wean the province off temporary workers, the spokesperson said.

However, the Tories have not shied away from embracing private and non-profit health-care organizations in the past.

In June, Stefanson told supporters her government will look “at innovative ways to increase capacity in our system with partnerships in the private and not-for-profit sectors,” after the former NDP government took an “ideological approach to health care” and stifled innovation.

Neither Stefanson nor Health Minister Audrey Gordon were made available for an interview Tuesday.

In a statement, a government spokesperson said nursing challenges are not unique to Manitoba and the province is is looking at staffing models in other jurisdictions. “We will continue to work with all facets of the health-care system to identify and implement a wide variety of solutions to address this issue.”

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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