Alberta’s NDP caucus is calling on Premier Jason Kenney and his government to scrap any potential plans to lay off nurses as the province grapples with the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“The NDP is vehemently urging Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the UCP government to halt the mass nursing layoffs, pause the imminent changes to physician compensation and immediately invest in health-care in order to ensure the province is fully prepared to confront the coronavirus pandemic,” the caucus said in a news release on Thursday.
The news release was issued soon after Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, announced the province’s total number of confirmed coronavirus cases now stands at 23.
Hinshaw also announced the government is now calling on Albertans not to organize large gatherings except under certain circumstances and to avoid travel outside of Canada.
“The ban on gatherings of more than 250 people is good policy,” NDP Deputy Leader Sarah Hoffman said, while also urging Shandro to change course on planned health-care reforms in the province.
“Whatever disagreements the minister has with health-care workers, he should set them aside and focus on public health, because Albertans need a strong public health-care system now more than ever before,” she said.
In an email sent to Global News on Thursday night, Steve Buick — the press secretary for the ministry of health — said “this is not a time for politics.”
“It’s disappointing that the NDP would choose to politicize a global pandemic for their own political ends,” the email reads. “Minister Shandro has assured the chief medical officer of health, Dr. Hinshaw, that she has the government’s full support in acting to protect Albertans from the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Whatever resources are needed in the health system, they will be there.”
Buick added that the UCP government’s response to the coronavirus “will be driven by the evidence and the advice of Dr. Hinshaw and other experts, not budget or political considerations.”
Last week, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association tweeted its concerns about how the province is preparing for a potential pandemic. The group’s president also raised concerns about changes to how physicians in the province are compensated.
In November, the NDP shared a letter from Alberta Health Services’ lead negotiator to the United Nurses of Alberta, suggesting AHS could be eliminating about 500 full-time equivalent positions over three years.
The letter that was sent to UNA’s director of labour relations said AHS needs “to be more efficient and focused in terms of health-care spending.” The health agency said that while the budget has “remained stable,” Alberta is facing a growing and aging population.
In the letter, AHS explained it will use an “attrition-only approach” until March 31, 2020. Then, starting April 1, 2020, “AHS will use all options under the collective agreement to implement operational best practice.”
On Thursday night, Buick said “no staff reductions have occurred.”
“The suggestion of cancelling them is more politics,” his email reads.
“If increased staffing is needed to respond to COVID-19, the system will be resourced as required, as in any emergency; it is too soon to speculate on specific changes.”
Watch below: Some Global News videos about nurses in Alberta.