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Legislative Report (15 November 2006)

Legislative Report

15 November 2006

NDP on Wrong Track with Health Care

Imagine having to rush a family member to a hospital. Things are happening quickly and there isn’t much time to think. The only thing you know is you need to get to the hospital in a hurry. But when you get there with your loved one, you find out the hospital is closed. It’s closed because there aren’t enough doctors or nurses to staff it.

Sadly for many people living in rural Saskatchewan today, this is the reality of health care. Rural Saskatchewan is suffering from years of NDP denial and inaction when it comes to the recruitment and retention of health care professionals. Hospitals shutting their doors are the product of an NDP government that ignored a problem it knew was looming. And now Saskatchewan families must pay the price.

Families in communities like Arcola, Central Butte, Spiritwood, Kamsack, Preeceville, Canora and Big River have all had to live with temporary hospital closures in recent weeks. Some are still facing those closures. This is not what the people of Saskatchewan deserve. They deserve access to good quality health care and a government willing to provide it. In 2001, the NDP government promised that all Saskatchewan people would have primary care within a thirty minute drive from home. So much for that commitment!

According to the November 1 edition of the Regina Leader Post, “the suspension of hospital services in rural Saskatchewan is a fact of life, Health Minister Len Taylor said.” Taylor asserts that from time to time, hospitals may have to be closed because of the lack of health care professionals in the province. What Taylor is forgetting to mention is that his government that has been in power for the last fifteen years and has failed to deal aggressively with the shortage of health care professionals in Saskatchewan.

Let’s not forget, this is also the same NDP government that reduced the number of nurse training spaces in the province. In 1991, Saskatchewan educational institutions graduated 364 nurses per year. Today the province graduates 230. That’s 130 fewer nurses graduating in Saskatchewan each year. It doesn’t take genius to see why we have a nursing shortage.

Meanwhile, next door in Manitoba, the government and the nurses union got together six years ago to design an aggressive recruitment and retention strategy which saw the number of nurses in Manitoba increase by 1,212 nurses or 12.1 per cent. Our nurses’ union asserts that if Saskatchewan had the same retention of nurses as our neighbour to the east, there would be 800 more RNs in the province – “enough to fill all vacancies, staff up to professional standards, and cover annual retirements and long-term disabilities.” However, in Saskatchewan, the number of nurses has remained stagnant, our nurse retention rate is the worst in Canada and the future is looking particularly grim.

This week, the Saskatchewan Union Nurses released a report stating that nursing vacancies in the province have increased by a whopping 78 per cent since last fall and that more than 700 new nurses are required to fill the vacancies and to meet professional standards. The report says that as a result of the shortage, 247 beds have been closed, nursing vacancies have simply been abolished outright or filled by another health professional, and that this year alone, 485 of nurses over 50 will be eligible for retirement.

According to the union’s report: “Five years of government denial and token responses to the RN/RPN shortage has left Saskatchewan much worse off than any other province. Patients, nurses and health authorities are paying a very high price as a result of the vacancies … [t]he scope and destructive legacy of the Saskatchewan government’s mismanagement of the nursing shortage is simple to outline, but difficult to overestimate.”

A perfect storm has developed in Saskatchewan’s health care system because the NDP government failed to address these problems earlier, despite repeated calls from nurses and the Official Opposition Saskatchewan Party. It’s this inaction that is now causing hospitals to shut their doors. It’s this inaction that’s forcing families in rural Saskatchewan to live with substandard health care. There’s no question that the NDP government is leading the province down the wrong track when it comes to health care in Saskatchewan.

If you have a question about this report or any other matter, just Contact Glen.

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