Today marks the first day of National Nursing Week and CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador sends their heartfelt thanks to the nurses working tirelessly to keep our healthcare system running and calls on the government to do more to address the recruitment and retention of health care workers.

“Nurses are the heart of our health care system,” said CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador President Sherry Hillier, “and without them, it would grind to a halt. We’re seeing that right now.” Years of underfunding the public system have placed the burden of long wait times, limited patient care time, and shortage of supplies on the shoulders of the nurses who interact with patients on a daily, and often hourly, basis.

“When someone needs medical attention, they don’t care about the funding, or lack thereof. All they care about is getting help, which means our nurses take the flack that should be directed at the government. If the health care system was funded properly, if our nurses were paid properly, these issues wouldn’t exist. Instead, the Furey government is funneling money into private companies that will split the already limited pool of nurses and calling it a solution,” said Hillier. Instead of addressing the issues of retention and recruitment that CUPE Newfoundland and Labrador has continuously raised, such as low wages and lack of work-life balance, the Furey government has chosen to spend their time and money on travel nurses.

“They spent nearly 36 million dollars on travel nurses in 6 months last year, paying them quadruple what licensed practical nurses make. In this economy, when everyone is struggling to make ends meet, of course a nurse currently working in the public system would switch to a private agency. But that’s still just one nurse. The health care system gained nothing.” Despite repeatedly claiming they would prioritize fixing the public health care system, the Furey government has yet to take tangible action to address staffing issues.

In April 2023, there were 748 vacancies for registered nurses alone – as of October, that number sat at 715. That means, in six months, the Furey government only hired 33 new nurses. “It’s time that the government put their money where their mouth is. It’s not enough to wish nurses a happy nursing week and promise better – they need to actually provide better,” said Hillier. “Our nurses keep our community healthy, and they deserve more.”