Ministry insists staffing a priority for nurses

The Ministry of Health said even in tough economic times, the B.C. government is honouring its commitment to protect health care.

Responding to comments made by B.C. Nurses Union president Debra McPherson during a tour of Williams Lake last week, the Ministry of Health told the Tribune even in tough economic times, the B.C. government is honouring its commitment to protect health care.

“The Ministry of Health funding will increase by $374 million in 2013-14 to $16.6 billion — an increase of 2.3 per cent for Ministry of Health funding,” the Ministry of Health noted in an e-mail response. “Within three years, the budget will see Ministry of Health spending increase by $1.2 billion up to $17.4 billion by 2015-16 — this translates into a 7.6 per cent increase over three years. In this year’s budget, we are protecting and maintaining health authority funding, while also ensuring the health services British Columbians rely on are maintained.”

It’s a budget that continues a trend of slowing the rate of growth in health care spending, the ministry argued.

“Before the worldwide economic crisis, health care funding was growing by about seven per cent a year — in our last budget growth was down to around three per cent, and in Budget 2013 it will be at 2.6 per cent.”

While McPherson said nurses are “terrified” the lower budget increases will result in layoffs and more work, the Ministry insisted it is a priority of the ministry and health authorities that the province’s health human resources are deployed as effectively and efficiently as possible.

“The two-year labour agreement with the Nurses Bargaining Association, announced in October 2012, specifically targeted nurse workload and improvements to patient care and included an increase in the work hours from 36 to 37.5 hours per week,” the ministry said. “With the increase in work week hours of nurses, there is an increase in capacity across the health system and, as a result, fewer part time workers may be required in certain areas. Transitioning to a 37.5 hour work week will also help authorities reduce the more expensive overtime hours.”

The agreement also includes the addition of 2,125 nurses over the next four years in recognition of projected increases in patient care demand and in support of the continued management of nurses’ workload.

“We are committed to that increase in nurses – it should be noted we are less than a year into the four-year term of that increase.”

Responding to McPherson’s call on the government to create incentives for nurses to work in communities where there are nursing shortages, the Ministry said since 2001, more than $200 million has been invested through the BC Nursing Strategy to educate, recruit and retain nurses.

“Our government supports undergraduate and new graduating nurses to better integrate in the health system, and all health authorities have strategies to support new graduates as they enter the workplace,” the Ministry noted. “Through the nurse education bursary over 6,500 nursing students have received more than $20.4 million in education funding since 2001. Since 2001, over $9.1 million in B.C. student loans forgiveness has been provided for nursing graduates working in rural, remote and other high-demand areas.”