By Don Drummond* – November 2022
In “Troubles in Canada’s Health Workforce: The Why, the Where, and the Way Out of Shortages” authors Don Drummond, Duncan Sinclair and Jillian Gratton find that PSWs and family physician shortages will persist while vacancies and retention of nurses in high-stress positions will worsen.
While the aggregate number of health professionals in Canada has been steady and growing, job vacancy rates for nurses and PSWs in particular have jumped since the pandemic. The persistence of nursing vacancies is not due to workers leaving the health sector, but likely from healthcare workers shifting away from high-stress positions in emergency departments, medical/surgical wards and intensive care units, to positions with better workplace conditions and work-life balance.
“The supply of nurses has increased since 2019, but returnees from retirement are filling critical gaps at the moment and may not stay in the workplace for long,” said Drummond. “Depending upon how the data are interpreted returning nurses accounted for half to all the growth in the supply of registered nurses in 2020 and 2021.”
Presently, physician shortages in Canada are dominated by family medicine and to a lesser extent psychiatry. The data strongly indicate these gaps will not be filled by the current supply of new entrants into post-graduate training: through-put for training for these fields is slow, anticipated patient needs are growing, and the popularity among trainees of all specialties focused on the diseases and conditions of the elderly among trainees is diminishing.
Finally, while the exact number of PSWs in Canada is not known, employment in the long-term care sector in Canada generally falls well below international benchmarks. Canada has 37 percent fewer long-term care workers per person aged 65 and over compared to the median of OECD countries. The authors estimate that closing the gap would require adding more than 140,000 workers to the long-term care sector, a substantial proportion of which will be for PSWs.
“Increasing the supply of health-sector workers is a necessary but insufficient response to the troubles in the sector,” said Sinclair. “Canada’s health system’s results, its access and outcomes, are mediocre at best despite our devoting one of the highest shares of GDP to healthcare in the world. “Better” needs to receive as much attention as ‘more.’”
“Efforts to increase supply of health workers will be futile unless attraction and retention are improved,” added Gratton. “Improving working conditions would demonstrate respect for their hard work and should include higher pay for some.”
Among the report’s recommendations:
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Don Drummond, Fellow-in-Residence, C.D. Howe Institute, and Stauffer-Dunning Fellow, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University; Duncan Sinclair, Professor Emeritus, School of Medicine, Queen’s University; Jillian Gratton, RN, Kingston Health Sciences Centre; Laura Bouchard, Director of Communications, C.D. Howe Institute
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