BC government adds 602 nursing spaces to address healthcare staffing crisis

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BC Health Minister Adrian Dix says the addition of new nursing positions is intended to strengthen BC’s future healthcare workforce.CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

The British Columbia government is adding 602 new nursing spaces to public post-secondary institutions, which the British Columbia Nurses Union calls a “promising step” to address a staffing crisis in Health care.

The new spaces will be added to approximately 2,000 existing spaces in nursing programs across the province.

They include seats for 362 registered nurses, 40 registered psychiatric nurses, 20 nurse practitioners and 180 licensed practical nurses.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the investment is aimed at building BC’s future health workforce, while Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon says it will help fill a skills gap.

Aman Grewal, president of the BC Nurses Union, says staffing levels were already critical before the COVID-19 pandemic and now nurses are tired, burnt out and need more support.

In a survey conducted last month, 76% of union members said their workload had increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey found that 51% of people working in emergency departments and intensive care units said the pandemic had made them more likely to leave the profession in the next two years.

“This investment is a promising step toward solving the staffing crisis that is currently crippling our health care system,” Grewal said.

Since 2017-18, Dix said the number of licensed practical nurses in British Columbia has increased by 12% and the number of registered nurses has increased by 6%.

But if the total number of nurses has increased in recent years, so has the demand. Retirements, combined with an aging population that will need more care, are creating new pressures on the system alongside the pandemic, he said.

“The number of nurses is growing in British Columbia faster than anywhere else, but the demands on nurses are growing, I think it’s fair to say, even more. And so (there is) a need to invest in the future,” Dix said.

Grewal said that in addition to adding more places to training programs, incentives for retention and finding ways to employ internationally trained nurses will be key to solving the problem.

The expansion of nursing programs is part of the StrongerBC economic plan, which aims to close the skills gap through a generational commitment to accelerating talent development and skills training for British Columbians.

The funding comes from $96 million committed over three years in last year’s budget to increase post-secondary education and training capacity for health professionals.

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