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Alberta to expand duties of licensed practical nurses

WATCH: The province is changing regulations to allow licensed practical nurses to do more. Also in Health Matters, Su-Ling Goh shares some special memories that were created for kids thanks to the Edmonton Oilers.

Alberta’s 16,000 licensed practical nurses will soon be allowed to carry out more duties as a way to spread out work and free up time for other health providers.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the changes will allow LPNs to perform duties they’ve already been trained to do but can’t, because rules haven’t been updated for well over a decade.

“These amendments will better reflect what our health system needs here in Alberta and what LPNs are already competent to do,” Shandro said Thursday.

READ MORE: Alberta nurses launching legal challenge of province’s wage arbitration bill

Starting Feb. 1, LPNs will be allowed to administer blood and dispense certain drugs, provide ultrasounds for bedside assessments, and give intravenous nutrition and medication by invasive procedures, such as central venous lines.

“Patients won’t have to wait for another provider to perform these activities, and LPNs will find their work more satisfying,” said Shandro.

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“And the changes mean that registered nurses can spend their time doing what they’re trained to do.”

READ MORE: Alberta spends $3M for 30 nurse practitioners for remote, specialized areas

Shandro said the new duties will align with those already in place in other Canadian jurisdictions.

Valerie Paice, president of the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta, said the changes “will increase continuity of care, increase safety and improve the overall patient experience.”

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said the changes are “a positive step” for LPNs and the health system.

READ MORE: Alberta nurses accuse province of breach of contract in wage talks

But he said he worries about their pay, given that Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government has said hard decisions are coming to reduce public spending and balance the budget.

LPNs make between $26 to $35 an hour.

“We hope (the government) are not going to be then looking to cut their salaries along with (those of) other workers,” said Shepherd.

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In a news release, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees said the decision is concerning. The union said the UCP government asking LPNs to do more with less.

“These front line workers are already stretched thin,” said AUPE vice-president and LPN Susan Slade.

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“Increasing their workload without any firm promise to increase staffing levels or other resources is not good for workers or health care delivery. Working conditions are patient conditions.”

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The announcement is among recent initiatives by Shandro to get more health work done with existing resources.

READ MORE: Alberta registered nurses to order X-rays, prescribe drugs under new rules

Last month, he said the province will hire 30 new nurse practitioners to work in remote areas or places where it’s difficult for patients to see family doctors. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have taken advanced education and can perform tasks such as setting broken bones, doing checkups, ordering tests and prescribing medications.

Alberta has 600 nurse practitioners, but almost all of them work in hospitals or outpatient clinics. The goal is to have them work in areas like Bonnyville, where the primary care network there has 600 patients on a wait-list for a doctor.

— with files from Global News