Amidst a critical nurse shortage in the province, Ontario’s spending on temporary nurses has reached levels never before seen.
According to the University Health Network, Canada’s largest health network, the organization has spent $6.7 million on temporary agency nurses in the fiscal year between March 2021 and 2022. In the 2018 fiscal year, the University Health Network barely spent over $1 million. This represents an increase in spending of over 550%.
“It’s gut-wrenching… we will not be able to sustain our healthcare system with numbers like that,” president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions Linda Silas explained.
Silas adds that the shift towards spending money on temporary nurses is indicative of a broader issue, with more money moving from public workers to those working in private agencies.
“These are public dollars going to private agencies. You think okay, employers, government — let’s shake our heads here. We have to take that money that you’re spending and throwing down the drain and start fixing the workplace.”
Silas also said that problems with the public sector hiring private agency nurses spiked in the fall and that she’s now trying to get policymakers to investigate how much hospitals are dolling out to the agencies.
“We don’t know how many there are, how much they’re charging employers, or even how much they’re paying nurses,” Silas said. “There’s no transparency, and these are public dollars going to private agencies that we hear are charging two, three and four times the salary of a nurse for each shift.”
While many may not like the fact that taxpayer dollars meant to fund Canada’s crippled healthcare system are going to private agencies, it’s warranted given how dire nurse shortages have gotten.
As previously reported by The Counter Signal, nationwide nurse shortages have forced multiple hospitals to shut down their emergency departments.
Less than two weeks ago, Montfort Hospital in Ottawa, along with Carleton Place and District Memorial Hospital just outside the city, were forced to shut down their emergency department for an entire 12 hours due to what Montfort called “an unprecedented shortage of nurses.”
“The decision to close the Emergency, even for a few hours, is not easy to make, but we have to do it to ensure our team is able to offer excellent, safe and compassionate care when the Emergency reopens,” reads a statement from Montfort.
At Carleton Place and District Memorial Hospital, it was even worse. The hospital shut its emergency departments down for 24 hours — something most hospitals don’t even do on Christmas.
It’s the same story across the country. Fort Saskatchewan Community Hospital announced it was closing its obstetrics unit for two weeks due to shortages, advising pregnant women to go elsewhere.
As The Globe and Mail reported, South Calgary Health Centre is also reducing its emergency department operating hours by two hours, while an Airdrie hospital is shutting it down entirely on the weekends for nearly two months.
Clearly, something needs to be done, and that might mean increasingly looking towards private sector solutions.