Plans to increase nursing school enrolment and make it easier for internationally trained nurses to work in Manitoba could add 400 nurses by 2023, the provincial government said Thursday.
The province announced it will spend $7.5 million to boost nursing education and add 400 seats to nursing schools. Another crop of nurses who have nursing training from other countries could be helped by additional funding devoted to cut red tape and help them get licenced to work here.
The province plans to pay up to $23,000 per internationally educated nurse to go toward assessments, training, English-language requirements and other expenses such as transportation and child care. An online portal through which international nurses can apply for financial aid was expected to be launched Thursday on the provincial government's website.
Health Minister Heather Stefanson, Advanced Education, Skills and Immigration Minister Wayne Ewasko, and Economic Development and Jobs Minister Ralph Eichler made the announcement Thursday.
Asked how the province plans to recruit more nurses, Stefanson said it's important to try to reduce red tape.
"I think today's announcement is a really exciting step forward that will help us to recruit more nurses and physicians in Manitoba," she said.
The plan is to increase nursing-school enrolment by 200 students each year over the next two years. Post-secondary institutions raised concerns about maintaining the quality of nursing programs when the idea to increase enrolment was brought up this spring. In May, the province asked nursing schools for feedback.
Genevieve Thompson, an associate professor of nursing who serves on the University of Manitoba's senate was critical of the plan in a written message to colleagues in June.
"In our view, it is deeply troubling and extremely problematic that the current provincial government is directing the university to significantly alter its approach to nursing education without regard to the impact of such changes on the quality of our program, on our students or on the faculty members who teach them," wrote Thompson.
NDP critic Uzoma Asagwara called the announcement underwhelming, citing the government's previous cuts to health care and nursing staff.
"It's literally just refilling the hole that (they) dug before this pandemic," Asagwara said. "Their cuts before the pandemic left us poorly positioned to respond."
Asagwara called on the province to implement Doctors Manitoba's recommendations to deal with the surgery backlog as a step forward.
"It's inexcusable, it's irresponsible they haven't been able to provide a clear path forward yet."
The plan to invest in nursing education and hire more nurses needed to be announced five years ago, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said in a statement.
"The PCs 'health transformation' has been a catastrophic failure as Manitoba does not have a functioning health-care system. We did not have enough capacity to take care of ourselves in the third wave of the pandemic. We have people dying on wait lists, and one of the worst surgery backlogs in the country," Lamont stated.
"The PCs ignored months and years of warnings, closed ERs, ICUs, and deleted thousands of positions. They treated nurses as disposable, forced them to work overtime, and pushed them past the point of burnout so they either quit or retired."
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.