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Question Period (14 November 2006)

Question Period

From Hansard - 14 November 2006

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Vacancies in Nursing Positions

Mr. McMorris: — Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, during the 1999 nurses’ strike, this is what the former Health minister had to say, the member from Saskatoon Nutana, in a letter to SUN [Saskatchewan Union of Nurses]. This is what she said, and I quote:

We made some mistakes . . . one mistake was being too busy to really listen, to really hear all the legitimate concerns facing nurses . . . some problems that should have been dealt with promptly were allowed to fester.

Well, Mr. Speaker, the festering is continuing in the nursing profession. Here is what nurses are saying. Stress levels are too high because RNs [registered nurse] are overloaded. The overtime is incredible, and it makes it impossible to balance work and family life. That’s what the RNs are saying to this government right now, Mr. Speaker.

When will this minister start listening to the concerns from nurses on the floor? Or is he going to allow this situation to continue to fester, and are we going to be faced with a nursing strike like in 1999?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. And throughout the previous session of the legislature and now this one, almost every day I am surprised at how little the member opposite is paying attention to what’s actually going on in the world and in the government today, Mr. Speaker.

Since 1999, Mr. Speaker, this government has been actively engaged in consulting and working on policies relating to health human resources, Mr. Speaker.

In 2001 we brought forward the action plan. In 2005, Mr. Speaker, we brought forward another plan that further updated how we will respond to this issue. And, Mr. Speaker, just a couple of months ago I reconvened the nursing committee, put the actions in place on recruitment and retention policies — $15 million, Mr. Speaker . . .

The Speaker: — The member’s time has elapsed. The Chair recognizes the member for Indian Head-Milestone.

Mr. McMorris: — Mr. Speaker, this government continues to manage nursing vacancies with overtime. As a result, nurses are getting burnt out, and that’s what they’re trying to tell this government.

Here’s what one nurse had to say. Schedulers constantly harass nurses to work on their days off. It becomes very stressful. We know that some nurses have been asked to work at least three shifts in a row out of desperation because they can’t find enough people.

Overtime costs have increased by $2 million in Regina and Saskatoon in the last year. In one year, overtime costs for Regina and Saskatoon amount to $10 million. How many nurses would that hire full time? Ten million dollars a year is what this government is spending on overtime.

Will this minister commit today to funnel some of that money from overtime and offer it for full-time, permanent nursing positions to start dealing with the issue that we’re facing in Saskatchewan?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The member opposite is fully aware that the recruitment and retention issues that this government is addressing, Mr. Speaker, speaks directly to the issues that are being raised with this government by the organized nursing profession and by individuals throughout the province.

Mr. Speaker, in the process of recruitment . . . Because recruitment and filling vacancies certainly goes a long way, Mr. Speaker, to ensuring that there is less requirement for overtime, less requirement for filling in for holidays, Mr. Speaker, in our recruitment initiatives, Mr. Speaker, we have gone to the nursing education program, and we’ve said to the young people there who are graduating, will you work in the province of Saskatchewan? Mr. Speaker, those people have voted with their activities, Mr. Speaker. Ninety per cent of last year’s graduating class are working in Saskatchewan today, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. McMorris: — Quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, I don’t think health care professionals put any faith in that minister’s recruitment and retention program. We heard them talk about a health plan that they introduced five years ago that has had them back away from committing a 30-minute drive to primary health care. They’re having to back away from many of their promises, and I believe that’s what’s going to happen with this initiative too, Mr. Speaker.

Managing overtime, managing vacancies with overtime is just poor management. We’re hearing nurses that are being burnt out, are being burnt out and leaving this province. Morale is low, and we’re seeing WCB [Workers’ Compensation Board] claims in the nursing profession skyrocket because you’re managing vacancies with overtime which is simply wrong.

They didn’t listen to the nurses in 1999. Will they start listening to the nurses in 2006, so we don’t avoid the shemozzle that we faced under this NDP government in 1999? Will he start listening to SUN and taking their recommendations into heart?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The simple answer is yes, Mr. Speaker, we’ve been listening to nurses. And, Mr. Speaker, the significant problem is not that there aren’t programs and incentives and recruitment and retention initiatives that we’re taking. Part of the problem, Mr. Speaker, is that there aren’t large groups of unemployed nurses throughout the world, Mr. Speaker, that are prepared to come and work in these vacancies in Saskatchewan.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, regional health authorities manage as best they can given the resources that they have. I encourage the member opposite, Mr. Speaker, if he knows of unemployed nurses in the province of Saskatchewan, bring forward their names and we’ll hire them tomorrow, Mr. Speaker. We’ll put them to work.

In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, we are working to increase the seats in our nursing education program and, Mr. Speaker, we are working on recruitment and retention initiatives that are going to fill vacancies and give us opportunities to improve . . .

The Speaker: — The member’s time has elapsed. The Chair recognizes the member for Indian Head-Milestone.

Mr. McMorris: — Mr. Speaker, I can’t give the minister any names of nurses that aren’t working in the province right now. But what I can give him are the thousands of nurses that we have trained in this province that that government hasn’t retained. We have the worst nurse out-migration of any province in Canada, Mr. Speaker, under this NDP government.

But, Mr. Speaker, let’s look at the record and some of the decisions this NDP government has made. In 1991 Saskatchewan graduated 364 nurses. Today, this year we’ll graduate about 230. That’s 130 nurses short. He asks me what we should be doing about retention and recruitment. How about increasing the number of seats back to where we were in 1991 to start dealing with the issue?

Mr. Speaker, this NDP government has got us into this mix, this mess in the last five or six years or ten years. Mr. Speaker, it’s about time they start increasing the number of seats so that we deal with the problem internally. Will he increase the number of nursing seats in Saskatchewan?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. And I don’t have the time to give the member opposite a history lesson about the financial state of this province in 1991. There are other people around today, Mr. Speaker, that can help with the member understanding the state of this province in 1991 and again in 1996.

Mr. Speaker, this economy is re-energized. It’s in a position now, Mr. Speaker, where we can improve health care, increase the number of seats. Mr. Speaker, the Throne Speech of just a week and a half ago indicated very clearly, Mr. Speaker, and I quote, “Strengthen Saskatchewan’s leadership in improving public health care while reducing wait times and improving access to services.”

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite and his party voted against that very initiative just this week, Mr. Speaker. I encourage the member opposite to stand up and say that he supports the initiatives that the government has taken because every single initiative we take is going to have additional nurses working in this province, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. McMorris: — Mr. Speaker, it only took that minister four chances to stand on his feet and re-confirm that this blame, blame it on the Devine party is the perfect name for that NDP government, Mr. Speaker, because they can’t live up to the decisions that they made five and eight years ago that’s put us in this problem, Mr. Speaker. We’re in this problem because of the decisions that government has made. We have been calling on this government for the last . . .

The Speaker: — Order please. Order please. Order. The member for . . . Order please. The member for Indian Head-Milestone.

Mr. McMorris: — Mr. Speaker, if it comes down to backing that government and what they’re doing regarding recruitment and retention of nurses or backing up what SUN is saying — what’s actually happening on the floors of our hospitals — we’ll back up SUN each and every time, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, it’s the health care professionals that are making this system work, but the overload because of overtime and lack of staffing levels is causing burnout, is causing huge issues in the health care profession. Mr. Speaker, this minister has got to start acting and not just present another report or another committee. He’s got to start acting and recruiting and retaining the nurses that we have in the province. When will he start dealing with the overtime and the vacancy issues in this province?

Hon. Mr. Taylor: — Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Like I said, I don’t know where the member opposite has been or who is doing his research. In the nursing education program, Mr. Speaker, in 1999 we had 1,023 students enrolled, Mr. Speaker. In 2005-06 we have 1,557. We have increased by 120 per cent, Mr. Speaker, the number of seats in the nursing education program since 1999.

And while I’m on my feet, Mr. Speaker, the member opposite is a part of a party that distributes a pamphlet in Saskatoon that says their goal going into the next election is for steady, gradual reduction in government spending. Mr. Speaker, how do we increase seats and do these sorts of things while decreasing the health care budget? I ask the member opposite to stand up and be clear on that matter.

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