Province wants to reduce reliance, spending on agency nurses

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THE Manitoba government is looking to rein in spending on agency nurses, after temporary staff costs surpassed $40 million in the past fiscal year.

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THE Manitoba government is looking to rein in spending on agency nurses, after temporary staff costs surpassed $40 million in the past fiscal year.

“We want to see that number come down in terms of the funds that are being used and we want to see the numbers grow in terms of the nurses in our public system,” Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Wednesday.

“There are a number of initiatives that are on the table because we want our public system to grow and for nurses to want to stay in our public system.”

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Health Minister Audrey Gordon said the federal Canada Health Act lays out some of the parameters of “what we can and cannot pay for”.

Between April 2021 and March 2022, health authorities in Manitoba spent a combined $40.9 million on agency nursing staff, a number that has grown steadily since 2015. According to Shared Health, spending on agency nurses accounted for two per cent of overall nursing staff costs province-wide in 2015-16.

Last year, over four per cent of the province’s nursing expenditures went to private nursing agencies. Rural health authorities had the greatest reliance on agency staff, with Prairie Mountain Health spending $12,182,297 on agency nurses, followed by the Northern Regional Health Authority at $10,350,959, according to Shared Health.

The health minister said she has not set a target for year-over-year reduction in agency nurse spending, but said it’s something her department has been discussing. The minister said reducing agency nurse spending begins with listening to nurses employed by the public sector about necessary changes.

“I will be carrying out a series of in-person discussions in the next few weeks where I can hear from front-line nurses,” Gordon said. “There’s no monopoly on good ideas. So I want to hear what the ideas are for those nurses, what are the concerns, why are they going to agencies?”

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

At the time, the Opposition accused the provincial government of doubling down on its dependency on agency staff; Shared Health, meanwhile, defended the request for information, saying its purpose was to standardize agreements and to get a better understanding of agencies in an effort to wean the health regions off temporary staff.

Gordon said the province has added 289 nursing education seats at post-secondary institutions, offered training opportunities for nurses, established a provincial float pool and incentives and is considering self-scheduling in an effort to add and retain public-sector nurses.

A number of provisions were also included in the latest collective agreement with the Manitoba Nurses Union to recruit and retain nurses, including short-term locum travel for nurses in northern communities and a new patient care optimization committee, a Shared Health spokesperson said.

“While this is a challenge all provinces are facing, it is expected that these initiatives will, over time, reduce Manitoba’s reliance on agency nursing,” Shared Health said in a statement.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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