New Brunswick Nurses Union issues call for action to address working conditions

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WATCH: In a scathing report, the New Brunswick Nurses Union say the mental health of registered nurses and nurse practitioners are at a breaking point. Nathalie Sturgeon reports. – Feb 16, 2022

The New Brunswick government’s lack of effort to recruit and retain nurses has resulted in a labour and health-care crisis, the province’s nurses union said Wednesday after releasing the results of a survey of its members.

Conducted last June, the survey indicates working conditions have become increasingly unbearable, resulting in more nurses moving away from the province or leaving the profession, New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet said.

“It does sound bleak but it is the reality,” Doucet told reporters Wednesday. “New Brunswick nurses are not OK. Nurses are getting to the end of their ropes.”

Read more: COVID-19: New Brunswick nurse details life and death on front lines

She said there are nearly 1,000 total vacancies for registered nurses and nurse practitioners in the province, adding that the number is growing.

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“The health-care system was challenged pre-COVID, and so now that we are two years into a pandemic, all of the cracks and breaks in the system are out front and center for everyone to see,” she said.

Doucet said that when nurses were asked in the survey about how they were doing, they overwhelmingly responded, “We are not OK.”

Cathy Rogers, the union’s research and education officer, said 4,187 registered nurses and nurse practitioners responded to the survey, adding that 92 per cent of respondents said the health-care system has been worsening over the last three years.

“Mostly to blame is the lack of action on the labour shortage and resulting unmanageable workload,” Rogers said. “The dangerous nurse-patient ratio is making work conditions unbearable.”

Rogers said nurses are working long shifts and lots of overtime as a result of the labour shortage. She said a high number of nurses are reporting burnout and deteriorating mental health.

Doucet said the government needs to show leadership and invest in nursing. Unless the government takes action now, she added, the situation will only get worse, noting that 46 per cent of the workforce is eligible to retire within the next five years.

“Recruitment and retention is the only way out of the problem that we’re into today,” she said.

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Health Minister Dorothy Shephard responded to the union’s survey Wednesday, saying the results were collected before the government signed new collective agreements with nurses. Changes to working conditions were included in the new contracts, Shephard said.

“We know that things aren’t going to change overnight, but we took working conditions very seriously and we ensured that working conditions were on the table during our negotiations and discussions,” Shephard told reporters in Saint John.

She said there are sections of the contract mandating working groups to address many of the issues highlighted in the survey.

“We are committed to doing everything that we can to ensure that we improve working conditions and we do it collaboratively,” Shephard said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2022.

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