Canada’s health-care systems need to place greater emphasis on safe staffing levels at hospitals and other care facilities, according to the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU).
New figures on absenteeism rates and overtime from Canada’s Labour Force Survey show that in 2012, registered nurses and nurse supervisors in the health care and social assistance sector worked more than 21.5 million hours of overtime.
During each week in 2012, an average of 18,900 of Canada's 251,500 registered nurses and nurse supervisors in the sector were absent from work due to illness or disability.
"These levels of overtime and absenteeism clearly indicate that nursing workloads have reached a point that is not safe or acceptable," said CFNU president Linda Silas, noting that the connection between heavy nursing workloads and declining patient care and safety has been exhaustively researched and is well understood.
"More than any other factor, safe levels of nursing staff are the key to an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable health-care system that meets the needs of patients, their families and all Canadians.”
The hours of overtime worked by nurses in 2012 are equivalent to 11,900 full-time equivalent jobs, said Silas. And nearly one-third of nurses worked overtime each week, with the average total overtime worked at 6.6 hours per week — with both figures essentially unchanged since 2010.
The total cost of paid overtime in 2012 was estimated at $746.5 million, up from $660.3 million in 2010. But many nurses work overtime without being paid, she said.
The provinces with the highest number of nurses working overtime are Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The provinces with the highest absenteeism rates in 2012 were New Brunswick and Manitoba, both at about 10 per cent, while the lowest rates were in Saskatchewan (5.5 per cent) and Quebec (6.7 per cent).
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