As COVID-19 strains nurses, Singh says feds must ease barriers for those trained abroad

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says Ottawa must make it easier for nurses trained abroad to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 in Canada, as the virus continues to strain health-care workers and the new Omicron variant fuels new concerns about the ongoing evolution of the virus.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Singh said the government should create a work permit for nurses who qualify to come to Canada under immigration pathways prioritizing health-care workers, but whose applications for permanent residency face continued delays.

“We’re in a massive shortage of health-care workers, particularly nurses. But there are thousands of nurses who are trained internationally who are in Canada, and the only barrier to them actually being able to work is their immigration status,” said Singh.

“One small change to their immigration status would allow them to practise here and provide help to Canadians who need desperately their work.”

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Singh said the wait for their permanent residency means many nurses who have passed licensing exams to practise in Canada are not able to do so, at a time when health-care workers are burning out.

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OMA: ongoing physician burnout exacerbated by the pandemic

The pandemic has driven rising rates of burnout and exhaustion among Canadian health-care workers, including doctors, nurses and mental health workers. All have faced unprecedented strains and demands over the course of the last 19 months as they fought on the front lines of the pandemic.

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Last week, a union survey of B.C. nurses found 35 per cent are considering quitting because of the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic, which experts say amplified chronic issues around understaffing.

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The issue of burnout in nurses is not unique to that province, though, or to Canada. It’s emerged as one of the major shadow pandemics of the COVID-19 era as successive waves of the virus have pummelled health-care systems around the world.

Part of the challenge, though, has been the length and grind of the pandemic, many have said, pointing to the broad social support for doctors and nurses in the early days of COVID-19 compared with the vitriol and threats by anti-vaccine extremists increasingly targeting many of them.

The B.C. Nurses Union has said it would need roughly 24,000 new nurses in that province alone by 2029 to ease the shortage, but nursing schools in Canada have also faced challenges in scaling up their programs to train greater numbers of students to keep up with demand.

And that demand is not letting up as cases continue to ebb and flow across the country.

Last week, public health officials around the world also raised concerns about a new variant dubbed Omicron that was first identified by researchers in South Africa.

Multiple countries quickly slapped travel restrictions into place, but the variant has been detected in Hong Kong and Belgium in addition to a spike in cases in South Africa.

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There are not yet any confirmed cases of the variant in Canada, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Friday. But it will take days or weeks until experts have a clear picture of the threat the variant may pose to countries, even those with highly vaccinated populations.

“Due to the potential for increased transmissibility and the possibility of increased resistance to vaccine-induced protection, we are concerned about this new variant and closely monitoring the evolving situation,” Tam said.

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