Almost 60% of Saskatchewan nurses considered leaving profession in past year, survey shows

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Almost 60% of Saskatchewan nurses considered leaving profession in past year, survey shows
A new survey shows 68 per cent of Saskatchewan registered nurses think Premier Scott Moe and health minister Paul Merriman haven't handled the COVID-19 pandemic well – Apr 6, 2022

A survey of Saskatchewan registered nurses found almost 60 per cent have considered leaving the profession in the past year.

The poll of more than 1,500 Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) members, released Tuesday, shows more than 80 per cent said they didn’t have enough nurses in their workplaces — more than double the number in 2021.

It also shows most have experienced anxiety and feelings of helplessness and that most believe Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe and health minister Paul Merriman have not handled the COVID-19 pandemic well.

The findings come after months of high profile departures and after other reports showed health-care workers have left the field.

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SUN president Tracy Zambory said the results represent a “canary in a coal mine” that show nurses are scared, very overwhelmed and burned out.

“Patients are being put at risk because there isn’t enough health care providers to be able to give safe patient care,” she said, telling Global News Moe and Merriman have abandoned healthcare workers.

“Every time a registered nurse shows up and sees their unit, agency or facility so incredibly short staffed… it reminds them that the premier and the minister of health ignored their pleas for help, ignored their calls to say, ‘We have a health-care system that is in crisis’.”

57.4 per cent of respondents said they had considered leaving the profession in the past 12 months. That represents the highest percentage in the past eight years of nurses who said they were considering leaving and is nearly a 12-per cent increase over 2021.

Click to play video: 'The Future of Healthcare'
The Future of Healthcare

Those who said there are temporary or permanent vacancies represented 82.8 per cent, up from 39.7 per cent in 2021. The survey also shows almost 90 per cent said there are not enough nurses to cover absences or meet higher service demands in their workplace.

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Those numbers, and accounts from nurses, Zambory said, show many nurses are working unsustainable amounts of overtime and said the province’s political leadership needs to take note.

2022 marks the first time the survey asked for members’ opinions of the premier and health minister, though the overall rating of “elected officials of the Saskatchewan government” fell from 2.47 to 1.95, out of a scale of five.

Half of the respondents, 49.8 per cent, gave Moe and Merriman the lowest possible rating.

Meanwhile, 63.1 per cent of respondents didn’t approve of federally elected officials’ pandemic response, either.

Just under half also rated the Saskatchewan Health Authority leadership poorly.

Thirty-three per cent said the SHA was a poor or very poor place to work, with 24.1 per cent saying it was a good place to work.

Meanwhile, 42.9 per cent said it was neither good nor bad.

Health care policy consultant Dr. Dennis Kendel said the numbers were deeply concerning.

He told Global News the severe strain on nurses shows the provincial government needs to re-evaluate how the health-care system functions, taking in lessons from other jurisdictions on what has and hasn’t helped during the pandemic.

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“It’s quite possible that some of the work that physicians currently take on could be done by others, and equally so with nurses and others, and we need to be creative and flexible going forward,” he said.

Referring to nurses as the backbone of the health-care system, he said anyone reading the survey should understand the numbers show exhaustion.

“In all areas of human endeavour, we can sustain a heroic effort for a period of time. And then there’s a point in which your body and your mind just give out. You cannot do it any longer.”

In the 2022-23 budget the Saskatchewan government allocated $6.44 billion towards health care, which includes $1.5 million dedicated towards bringing 150 health-care workers from the Philippines to the province.

Zambory said that measure takes time and that it won’t help anyone in the short term.

She said the province needs to invest in creating more seats for nurses in training programs, to pair new nurses with nurse practitioners so they learn more skills and to focus on recruiting nurses in rural areas, among other measures.

But she said the first thing Moe and Merriman can do is admit the health-care system is in crisis.

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But the health minister wouldn’t, when asked by reporters on Tuesday.

“I acknowledge absolutely that there are challenges, absolutely,” he said.

“And I’ve never backed away from that. We have challenges in our health-care system, we will continue to have some challenges in our health-care system.”

He said it was his role to support registered nurses and all members of health-care teams, which includes maintaining and improving the number of seats in nurse training programs – though the USask Regina nursing campus is closing and redistributing its seats.

That’s still not the first step Zambory was hoping for.

“When people actually feel respected and heard and have their ideas actioned… That goes a long way because this has become untenable for so many people because they felt abandoned,” Zambory said.

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