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B.C. facing critical nurse shortage, says BCNU

WATCH: The BC Nurses' Union says the nursing shortage in this province has reached the crisis level. Randene Neill explains.

There is a shortage of specialty nurses in B.C. and officials say it’s about to get worse.

“It has reached a crisis level, with the number of vacancies in specialty areas across the province. We have over 1,000 vacancies,” Gayle Duteil of the B.C. Nurses’ Union said.

At Vancouver General Hospital, 300 surgeries have been cancelled in the last six months because there aren’t enough operating room nurses available.

“We have enough general duty nurses,” Anna Marie D’Angelo of Vancouver Coastal Health said. “But we are short of specialty nurses, nurses in the OR, emergency department, those kinds of jobs.”

Overtime is the answer, for now. There are also incentives—OR nurses at VGH are now receiving a $5-an-hour premium. Other facilities, like the ICU at Surrey Memorial Hospital, have cancelled any further vacation requests until the new year. Kelowna General Hospital is currently looking for six full-time emergency room nurses.

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“It’s a province-wide issue,” Duteil said.

The BCNU says the long-term solution is money for more education. Last April, the province announced $5 million in funding for specialty training, the equivalent of about 150 nurses.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Duteil said. “We need, on average, about 900 a year to keep up with our current demands.”

Two-hundred specialty nurses are currently being trained in B.C. and will graduate in the spring.

“It’s not a quick fix,” Duteil said. “Unfortunately, we have reached capacity with respect to ongoing education. BCIT is at capacity for training specialty education nurses.

“We are going to have to look outside the province. We would like to see all of these positions filled with B.C. nurses but I’m afraid we have reached capacity and we’re going to have to look further.”

-With files from Randene Neill