TORONTO - This week, Nurse Practitioners (NPs) across the country celebrate their practice during National NPs week, (November 7-13). Across the nation, more than 6,086 licenced NPs have been providing care to Canadians and continue to help people maintain their health and guide them in the treatment they need when illness occurs.
Among other regulated nursing professionals, NP have experienced the largest growth in their profession. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) workforce data, in 2020, the number of NP increased by 7.6%. In 2019, the NP workforce totaled 5,677, an increase of 6.4% from the previous year.
However, in Ontario, workforce growth is not as impressive. The number of Ontario NPs in 2020 was 3,454. That represents an increase of 5.5% from the 3,273 NPs in 2019. In fact, it was the smallest growth on record since 2011. As the population rapidly ages, the need for NPs to manage patients with acute and chronic conditions will likely increase.
Vicki McKenna, President of the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA), acknowledges the specialized care NPs provide. On behalf of the Union, she recognizes and honours “the vital role that NPs play in Ontario’s health care system”.
Given their education and skill, NPs perform complex work. As health care professionals, educators and researchers, they can autonomously diagnose and treat illness, order and interpret tests, prescribe medications and perform medical procedures. Broadly speaking, they can do nearly everything a doctor can, with the exception of performing specialized duties like surgical procedures.
They work as part of a collaborative team that includes registered nurses, doctors, social workers and other medical professionals to deliver care services to individuals at every stage of their life.
“For these patients, NPs are their lifeline to care”, McKenna said in a statement announcing National NP week. “That is why ONA is continuing to educate policy-makers on the need to ensure NPs are able to use their full potential to improve access to healthcare. Through our work with the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, we continue to urge that working conditions be improved for NPs”, she added.
Throughout the pandemic, nurses are the ones on the frontlines who continue to put themselves in harm’s way and risk their own physical and mental well-being to keep their patients healthy and safe. They face high-stress workloads, physical/mental exhaustion and some are leaving the profession due to burnout and legislation (Bill 124) that limits annual salary increases for nurses to one percent per year.
Although Ontario’s Fall Economic Statement delivered last week did not specifically mention nursing wages, it did include investments of $342 million, beginning 2021-2022, to strengthen the health care and long-term care workforce.
The funding is directed toward adding over 5,000 new and upskilled registered nurses (RN), registered practical nurses and 8,000 personal support workers.
An additional $57.6 million is allocated to hire 225 NPs in the long-term sector over three years. That would include 75 positions beginning in 2022-23.
While these measures appear to be a step in the right direction, Dr. Doris Grinspun, CEO of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) argues “it’s not nearly enough compared to the shortfall of 21,704 RNs in Ontario”. In a message following the government’s Fall Economic Statement, she stressed how nurses are angered and driven away by Bill 124 insisting that “Premier Ford immediately repeal this bill”.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter