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The union representing most B.C. care aides and licensed practical nurses is demanding an apology from health services minister Colin Hansen after he referred to their role in providing quality patient care as “menial” on a Vancouver radio station Friday.

And the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE) says the minister’s comments clearly indicate that he doesn’t understand the link between “non-nursing duties” and bedside nursing care.

“Describing the work of care aides and LPNs as menial is an insult to these dedicated care providers,” says HEU secretary-business manager Chris Allnutt.

Care aides provide the bulk of bedside care for more than 20,000 seniors who are in long-term care facilities. LPNs have a clearly defined scope of practice to provide direct nursing duties in a variety of settings.

“For the minister to suggest that these members of the nursing team are on hand to pick up non-nursing duties is a clear sign that he doesn’t have a clue about solutions to the nursing shortage.

“The whole point of the campaign to relieve nursing staff of non-nursing duties is to hire additional support workers to take on tasks such as serving meals, cleaning rooms, filing forms and answering the phones,’ adds Allnutt.

In fact, health unions and employers bargained a memorandum of understanding last year acknowledging that non-direct patient care work being performed by registered nurses could be performed by support workers.

“Unfortunately for patients, the Campbell government’s policy is to privatize support work and that will result in staff cuts, low wages, less experienced workers and in the final result more - not fewer - non-nursing duties left to nursing staff to perform,” says Allnutt.

“No one working in B.C.’s health care system sees their role as menial,” adds Allnutt. “And every one of these workers has a critical role to play in delivery quality care to patients.”