Will the health minister limit nursing agencies and better support student nurses?

May 2, 2024 | 42-5, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Question Period, Video | 1 comment

We have consistently heard from nurses, and the BC Nurses Union, that nurse-to-patient ratios are far from acceptable.

Recently, the union surveyed their members. In a media release they highlight, “on a monthly basis, a staggering 81 percent of nurses say they experience verbal and/or emotional abuse, 61 percent say their units are exposed to illicit substances and 39 percent report being exposed to weapons. Nearly half report working short-staffed every day and more than a third say they are seriously considering leaving the profession or are already making plans to do so.”

There is an incredibly challenging situation evolving in our healthcare facilities and in Question Period I asked the health minister about the proliferation of for-profit nursing agencies and better support for student nurses.


A. Olsen:

Relying on private nursing agencies is costing British Columbians and contributing to worsening health outcomes. Spending on agency nursing has steadily increased — 2018, $8.7 million; 2019, $19.9 million; and in 2029, that ballooned to $64 million. Those agencies charge a premium and pocket the profit. Meanwhile, the nurses they work alongside are working for lower pay and increasingly unsafe working conditions.

Why are the B.C. taxpayers paying for corporate profits and nursing in the public health care setting? It is unnecessary and leads to worse health outcomes. We need to break this unsustainable cycle. We need to improve conditions for public nurses. We need public money to support front-line health care workers instead of corporate profits.

My question is to the Minister of Health. Will he commit to ending reliance on agency nurses in British Columbia?

Hon. A. Dix:

More than a year ago now, we froze our agency nursing contracts. We’re currently renegotiating those contracts. We’ll have new contracts in place on May 31, which will have very significant limits on agency nurses.

That said, when we need nurses in the community — and we’ve had this discussion the last few days — we take steps to get nurses in the community. What have we done? We’ve brought in a world-leading nurse ratio program with the BCNU to recruit and make this the best place in the world to be a nurse. We’ve dramatically increased the number of nursing spaces across British Columbia — 604 spaces. We had a record year of new nurses in B.C. last year. We’re continuing at every level. Internationally educated nurses. A 50 percent increase in the employed student nursing program.

In short, we are doing the work necessary to recruit, retain and attract new nurses in B.C. That’s critical work for our health care system. We’re continuing to do that because…. And the key part of our work with the BCNU was to address this very issue of agency nursing, to do it together by making this a better place to be a nurse and making it a better deal to be a nurse in the public health care system.

[10:50 a.m.]

The Speaker: Member, supplemental?

A. Olsen:

I thank the minister for the response.

While our failing health care system is increasingly propped up by more expensive agency nurses — and we just heard the minister is moving away from them — student nurses are struggling.

Student nurses work hundreds of hours in unpaid practicums through the employed student nursing program. They have to pay to work. They have to pay for parking, if they can find it at all. They have to pay for application and licensing fees.

Why is anybody paying for parking at hospitals? Anyway.

When those nursing students graduate, they’re often deployed into units with the highest staffing challenges and thrown into incredibly challenging conditions, and despite instructions to health authorities to implement greater restrictions for the new grad program.

My question, again, is to the Minister of Health. Beyond student loan forgiveness, how is the minister compensating student nurses for the hundreds of free hours that they are serving our communities?

Hon. A. Dix:

When we had this discussion in estimates, we go through the very significant supports we are putting in place for student nurses, including new seats and other supports. One of the main ways we are doing that, though, is dramatically increasing the employed student nursing program, which is absolutely a paid program — 1,300 to 2,000 spaces, and they are full. That is part of a continuing effort to support nursing in our province, to support nurses in our province.

When you ask what are we doing for student nurses, that’s exactly what we should be doing, which is significantly expanding opportunities through the employed student nursing program to do that. That was part of work we did with the B.C. Nurses Union, with the Nurses Bargaining Association, and with the community of nurses in B.C., including the universities.

I think it’s an important step worthy of support by everybody in the House.

1 Comment

  1. John C. Glover

    Thanks Adam for that very informative update. This issue about the nursing dilemma is very troublesome and that nurse shortage number (5000+) was shocking! I printed off thos summaries from all of the health districts for later thought.

    Pity that the Minister of Health did not answer your parking payment question which has always been an irritating issue with me at least!

    I thoroughly enjoy your updates and fully support your views on these most important items. We are very fortunate to have you watching our backs! Thank you!


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