Lack of detail stymies health-care pledge
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It sounds like just what the doctor ordered to heal Manitoba’s beleaguered health-care system: a pledge by the Stefanson government to add 2,000 frontline staff to hospitals and clinics.
With wait times in emergency departments soaring and surgical backlogs piling up across the province, expanding the health-care workforce is exactly what is needed right now. Trouble is, nowhere in the $200-million “health human resources action plan” announced last week by Premier Heather Stefanson and Health Minister Audrey Gordon does it show how the province plans to achieve that goal.
Ms. Stefanson told Manitobans during a news conference her government’s plan will “increase our staffing capacity by 2,000 health-care professionals across the province with an additional $200 million investment.” A government news release issued the same day says the initiative will “add 2,000 health-care professionals” to the system.
However, the plan provides no timeline and no breakdown of how many of the new hires will be physicians, nurses or other front-line staff. There is no commitment to increase the health-care workforce by a specified amount this year, next year or in 2024. It’s as if the 2,000 figure was pulled from thin air.
The province says it plans to take steps to retain, train and recruit heath-care professionals. Some of the measures are new, such as offering hospital staff higher pay to work weekend shifts or to accept full-time positions. Those are meaningful steps that should help retain staff and fill some of the gaps in hospital scheduling. Other measures in the plan are not new, including the expansion of nurse training at the University of Manitoba, which will boost the supply of nurses in the future.
The plan includes incentives to encourage former staff to return to the workforce and proposes changes that will make it easier for international nurses to work in Manitoba. Those initiatives will likely result in some new hires. However, there are no estimates or targets on how many staff will be added through that process, or when they may occur.
If government is promising to add 2,000 new health-care professionals to the system, it has an obligation to release the nuts and bolts of its plan, including a breakdown of when and where staff will be hired. It must show the public how it arrived at that number; otherwise it’s a meaningless, if misleading, figure that exaggerates the extent to which government is tackling the staffing shortage.
If government is promising to add 2,000 new health-care professionals to the system, it has an obligation to release the nuts and bolts of its plan, including a breakdown of when and where staff will be hired.
Many of the initiatives included in last week’s plan “will be rolled out as they are finalized,” according to the province. No timelines have been given for most of them, including a pledge to extend hours for clinics and doctors’ offices. As a result, the public has no idea when they may be implemented.
Some parts of the plan are so vague, such as “working to provide incentives for emergency departments,” it’s impossible to gauge their value.
The Stefanson government also promised to eliminate mandatory overtime for health-care staff. Nurses have long complained about this punishing aspect of their job, which is causing staff burnout and is discouraging some from entering (or remaining in) the profession. However, no details have been released by government on when, or under what circumstances, mandatory overtime may be phased out or eliminated.
The province is taking some useful steps to address the staffing shortage in health care. Unfortunately, most of what Manitobans heard last week were vague platitudes that overstate the robustness of its efforts.