Ontario government funds up to 1,000 extra nurses per year

Universities need to compete with private nursing schools for students, the health minister says Ontario is giving universities more cash to teach more nurses, in a bid to entice some private schools out of…

Ontario government funds up to 1,000 extra nurses per year

Universities need to compete with private nursing schools for students, the health minister says

Ontario is giving universities more cash to teach more nurses, in a bid to entice some private schools out of the faculty of nursing business.

The government promised $100m over five years to support the expansion of two public education programs: the Ontario Surgical Nursing Program at McMaster University and the physician assistant program at the University of Toronto.

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“We have a limited supply of people who can work in health care,” said the health minister, Christine Elliott. “We need more graduates and nurses in order to respond to the new health care needs.”

The province will also fund an additional 600,000 hours of training in the specialist occupations segment of Ontario’s Education Employment and Training Act. She hopes to increase the number of nurses by 2,000 in the next few years, an almost 80% increase from the 1,247 registered nurses who graduated in 2015-16.

Elliott, a nurse who chaired the Ontario Nurses Association, said one in three patients in Ontario requires a nurse. If there are not enough nurses, or enough nurses who can adequately care for patients, said Elliott, that can mean the difference between life and death.

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Ontario employers reported that difficulty filling positions had led to delays in treating patients, a point that Elliott said there is now more proof to support. She pointed to a CIHI report from April this year that found that 95% of employers surveyed were experiencing difficulty filling critical health care positions.

In all, 62 universities and education institutions have registered for the new competitive nursing programs. There are nearly 900 applicants from every province and territory in Canada for the 160 nursing program positions that have been made available. About 50,000 applicants applied to seven physician assistant programs that Ontario’s government is also offering.

“My concern is that the only way the gap can be filled is if private programs pull out of the faculty of nursing and take students with good academic credentials. But there’s almost always a clash of value or standards when there’s competition with a private program,” said Vicki Hotchkiss, president of the Canadian College of Nursing.

The initiative is unprecedented and sets a course for the future of public nursing in Ontario, she said. The country’s education system lacks a national nursing accreditation process. The Canadian Association of Registered Nurse Practitioners said that governments tend to have more confidence in publicly funded degrees than private ones, but adding into the mix may not be the wisest use of public funds, as there are more appropriate private programs.

Health care in Canada is shaping up as the single most contentious debate to emerge from the 2019 federal election. The nursing profession has been under intense scrutiny in recent years. The Romanow Commission on Health Services in Canada recommended reducing nursing positions in urban hospitals as one way to improve patient care.

Ontario and Quebec also have disputes with nursing agencies that represent practitioners, and both Ontario and Quebec are struggling to pay for and hire more nurses. Ontario announced a plan last week to raise nurse salaries and compensate nurses who are forced to work off the clock and in the early morning and evenings. It was created in an effort to solve a pay gap that makes it more difficult for nurses to train and pay the taxes necessary to buy retirement pensions.

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