Legislative Report (18 April 2007)

Human Resources Crisis in Health

Saskatchewan is facing a human resources crisis in health care. And the NDP is not doing enough to fix it. In fact, the NDP is ignoring the problem. This is not just bad management, It’s dangerous.

All over Saskatchewan, we’re seeing growing evidence of this crisis in health care.

In Lloydminster, seniors recently stood out in the cold with signs that read “Where are we going to die?” They were protesting a shortage of long-term care beds.

In Arcola, emergency services at the local health care centre have been reduced because two of the six registered nurses in that town retired. We’ve all seen the ads from the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses with health professionals disappearing from the bedsides of patients. In Arcola, that TV commercial has come to life.

In Spiritwood, hospital services were shut down back in October because of a shortage of doctors. At the time, the NDP said a new recruitment strategy for doctors would help bring more physicians to rural areas. Six months later, Spiritwood is still waiting for new doctors.

For a month and a half starting May 1, the Big River hospital will be without a doctor.

The situation in Shellbrook is going from bad to worse. Two doctors recruited for the community are now going elsewhere. Instead of five doctors, there will soon be three. The NDP appears unwilling to do anything about it.

Nor are these problems restricted to rural areas. Beds have also been closed in Regina’s General and Pasqua hospitals because of the on-going nursing shortages.

The NDP budget has failed to address this problem. That budget increases the number of nurse training seats by 18. Medical undergraduate training seats increase by only four. That doesn’t come anywhere near to meeting the need.

Right now, there are 523 vacant nursing positions in Saskatchewan. According to the Saskatchewan Health employee pension plan, there are 485 nurses eligible for retirement this year. That means Saskatchewan will be short over 1000 nurses this year. An NDP budget with money for 18 new training seats is a recipe for disaster.

The situation with doctors is not much better. The government’s own website has postings for 84 vacant positions. And almost one third of Saskatchewan’s doctors are over the age of 55. The Saskatchewan Medical Association says if doctors get sick or need time off, there’s just no coverage. The President of the Association says the current system is “almost unsustainable”.

The NDP’s inaction on this problem is creating a vicious circle. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit doctors and nurses because of a national shortage. Those that do come often don’t stay because of a working environment full of stress and burn-out.

The NDP’s failure to expand training seats quickly enough has created an over-reliance on foreign doctors. Right now, Saskatchewan has 60 training seats for physicians. By comparison, Manitoba has just over 100. Doctors trained in this province are more likely to stay here. We need more training seats in Saskatchewan.

These are not new problems. However 16 years of inaction on the part of the NDP is only making matters worse.

If you have a question about this report or any other matter, just Contact Lyle.

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