A new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information says the number of practising nurses in Manitoba declined last year by more than 500, but local health officials say that figure doesn't reflect what's happening in the public health system.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says the number of filled public nursing positions in the city actually grew last year by 201 compared with the year before.
It said the number of registered nurses in Winnipeg was virtually the same in 2018 (6,614) compared with 2017 (6,615). However, the number of filled licensed practical nursing positions increased by 180, while filled registered psychiatric nurse positions rose by 22.
According to a CIHI report released Thursday, the total number of nurses in Manitoba declined by 557 to 16,065 in 2018, compared with the year before. Among those providing direct health care, the number dropped to 14,304 from 14,814, a drop of 510.
However, the WRHA explained that the information captured by CIHI does not reflect what is happening within the publicly funded health-care system in Winnipeg.
"CIHI's report is based on the number of nurses working in the geographic region of Winnipeg, which captures employers both inside and outside of the publicly funded health-care system," said Lori Lamont, the WRHA's chief nursing officer and chief operating officer.
Nurses who work in Winnipeg but are not employed by the WRHA include those employed by private agencies, doctors' offices and private surgery clinics.
Also muddying the waters is the fact that the College of Registered Nurses of Manitoba (CRNM), one of three nursing colleges that supply CIHI with information, altered its registration form last year, making a key question regarding employment status voluntary in nature as opposed to mandatory, according to CIHI.
Rahme Daoud, a CIHI official, said the recording change could have had a significant impact on the 2018 result.
An official with the CRNM could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to CIHI, the "supply" of nurses in Manitoba actually grew by 144 in 2018, but that figure includes nurses who are not practising.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew was quick to denounce the Pallister government over the CIHI numbers.
"This is certainly a strong condemnation of the disaster the premier has brought into health care in Manitoba," he said. "I condemn it in the strongest possible words."
Kinew went as far as to say that he did not believe the figures the WRHA provided showing that within the public health sector in Winnipeg the number of nursing positions rose in 2018.
"No, I don't believe in the WRHA anymore, not under this government. That's why we need a change in government. They've been reduced to doing damage control, spin and proffering up excuses for the premier," he said.
Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said the CIHI numbers are concerning because there is already a shortage of nurses in the province, and many nurses are approaching retirement age.
The average age of a nurse in Manitoba is 45.4, the highest in Canada, Jackson said. She said a Manitoba needs a plan to recruit and retain nurses.
Asked later about the changes in data recording that may have skewed the CIHI numbers, the MNU noted that the college of registered nurses' annual reports show a drop of 200 practising RNs in Manitoba in 2018 compared with 2017.
Further, in checking its membership lists, the MNU reports it had 5,844 members working in Winnipeg hospitals in January 2017 and 5,600 members in city hospitals in January 2019 for a net loss of 244 members over two years.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Cameron Friesen also weighed in on the matter Thursday, issuing a statement which read, in part, that there are more than 500 additional nurses working in Manitoba today than there was under the NDP in 2016.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Updated on Thursday, June 27, 2019 at 1:09 PM CDT: Adds report
1:15 PM: Adds graphics
5:06 PM: Updated.