B.C. government adding 602 nursing seats in a move to address skills gap

Retirements, combined with an aging population that will need more care, are creating new pressures on the system alongside the pandemic, health minister Adrian Dix said. 

The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press  – Amy Smart – Feb 20, 2022 

First-term nursing students at BCIT learning health assessment skills the Burnaby campus on May 13, 2021. PHOTO BY JASON PAYNE /PNG

The B.C. government is adding 602 new nursing seats to public post-secondary institutions in a move the B.C. Nurses’ Union calls a “promising step” toward addressing a staffing crisis in health-care. The new seats bring the total seats for nurse training in B.C. to about 2,600.

The added funding will create 362 new seats for registered nurses, 40 for registered psychiatric nurses, 20 for nurse practitioners and 180 for licensed practical nurses.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said the spending is about building B.C.’s future health-care workforce, while Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon said it will help close a skills gap.

The government also announced funding to boost training of graduate nurses — those who will end up in supervisory roles or train new nurses.

Aman Grewal, president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union, says staffing levels were already critical before the COVID-19 pandemic and now B.C.’s 40,000 nurses nurses are tired, burned-out and need more support.

In a survey last month, 76 per cent of union members said their workloads have risen since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The survey found 51 per cent of those working in emergency departments and intensive care units said the pandemic has made them more likely to leave the profession in the next two years.

“This investment is a promising step toward addressing the staffing crisis that is currently crippling our health-care system,” Grewal said.

Since 2017-2018, Dix said the number of licensed practical nurses in B.C. has risen 12 per cent and registered nurses are up six per cent. A number of new seats were also added in the fall of 2021 at UBC and Thompson Rivers University, which are among the universities and colleges that will be adding the new seats announced Saturday.

But while the overall number of nurses has risen in recent years, so has demand. Retirements, combined with an aging population that will need more care, are creating new pressures on the system alongside the pandemic, he said.

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“The number of nurse increases in B.C. is faster than anywhere else but the demands on nurses are increasing, I think it’s fair to say, even more. And so (there’s) a need to invest in the future,” Dix said.

Grewal said in addition to adding more seats to training programs, retention incentives and finding ways to employ internationally-trained nurses will be key to addressing the problem.

The expansion of nursing programs is part of the NDP’s economic plan, which aims to close the skills gap with a generational commitment to hurry talent development and skills training for British Columbians.

Funding comes from $96 million committed over three years as part of last year’s budget to expand post-secondary education and training capacity for health professionals.

B.C. government adding 602 nursing seats in a move to address skills gap
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