Growing threats to Ontario’s health-care system will push an alarming number of nurses out of the field, comprising direct patient care and “damaging the system beyond repair,” according to a survey of more than 1,000 RPNs in the province.

The survey, commissioned by the Registered Practical Nurses Association of Ontario (WeRPN) in May 2023, suggests that recent reports of an increase in nursing registrations “don’t paint the full picture,” and instead finds that more than 60 per cent are considering leaving the profession.

“While we may see more nurses being registered to practice, those numbers don’t tell the full story,” Dianne Martine, Chief Executive Officer at WeRPN said, adding that, without swift action, Ontario is at risk of losing an “alarming number” of nurses from direct patient care positions.

“It’s not a question of if [our] healthcare system will be damaged beyond repair, it’s when,” Martine said.

Of the 1,208 registered practical nurses surveyed, 62 per cent said they will, or are considering, leaving the profession, and one in five are considering leaving Ontario.

The purported exodus has a direct correlation with patient care, the association said. Ninety per cent of respondents reported having directly witnessed a negative impact on patient care “due to continuously deteriorating staffing issues.”

Ontario nursing

The survey also highlighted a reliance on nursing agencies to fill staffing gaps – 60 per cent of those surveyed said their workplace has become “overly reliant” on nursing agencies, which WeRPN says cost three times as much in order to meet staffing needs.

Figures laid out in an arbitration decision for hospital nurses last week show that the use of private nursing agencies to fill staffing gaps in Ontario hospitals has more than quadrupled since the pandemic began.

In 2020-21, hospitals reported spending $38,350,956 on agency nurses. By 2022-23 that cost had exploded to $173,669,808.

WeRPN says that, in turn, 54 per cent of nurses said they are considering shifting to a for-profit nursing agency in the hopes of receiving better pay and greater flexibility.

To combat the current crisis, the association called on the Ford government to institute “manageable workloads” with standardized nurse-to-patient ratios, implement and prioritize retention strategies, provide fair compensation for RPNs across all sectors, and move away from for-profit nursing agencies.

“Solutions for effective retention strategies are not complex, and we have been imploring government leaders for some time to do right by Ontarians,” Martine said. “The time to act is now – the future of our profession and the healthcare system depends on it.”

With files from CTV News Toronto’s Queen Park Bureau Chief Siobhan Morris.


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