December 8, 2023

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh heard from health-care workers in Nanaimo this week about a health-care system they say is on the verge of collapse.

Singh, joined by Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Lisa Marie Barron, held a round-table on health care on Wednesday, Jan. 25, at the Nanaimo Museum, as part of consultations up and down Vancouver Island.

Nanaimo nurses, non-profit community health centre staff, and a Gabriola Island physician were asked about challenges and solutions. Nurses talked about challenging working conditions with too many patients, forced overtime, and a lack of respect. The doctor said there’s an absurd difference in what’s an acceptable level of care in rural communities compared with urban centres. The health centre staff said worsening social determinants of health mean that clients who come in tend to have more serious needs.

“We need to make sure that [health-care workers] are respected and that we can keep them in the profession by making sure they have the right conditions of work and the right pay,” Singh said. “We can do that and we can actually save our health-care system, but right now it’s on the verge of collapse and things are very serious.”

Singh criticized the federal Liberal government for not doing enough to ensure health-care workers stay in public health, as he said private clinics are “cannibalizing” the public system.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invited premiers to meet with him in early February to discuss health care and federal health funding, and Singh said discussions must include a plan to deal with the shortage of health-care workers. The NDP leader said that means hiring workers, bringing back workers who have left the system, and qualifying internationally trained workers.

“We need to make sure we’re investing in the solutions, we’re hiring more nurses and doctors, we’re retaining the ones we have and we’re doing a better job of making sure we deliver better care with the nurses and doctors and front-line health-care workers that we do have with better approaches,” he said.

Singh has also been in Campbell River, Qualicum Beach and Duncan this week and he said he’s heard “troubling” stories about closures of emergency rooms and health centres and insufficient staffing levels.

“Nurses are trained to provide the care that they know they can and they should be providing, but now the ratios are completely out of balance. There’s far too many patients to the number of nurses on staff and that’s a serious problem,” Singh said. “Similarly … there’s a shortage of doctors, people aren’t able to see primary-care family physicians and as a result, the preventative stuff that would be taken normally, doctors aren’t able to provide that care and so people are getting more and more sick and ending up in emergency rooms.”

Trudeau, at a press conference in Hamilton on Wednesday, Jan. 25, acknowledged that wait times in emergency rooms have become “dangerously long” and that health-care workers are under strain and burning out. He said universal public health care is fundamental to Canadians and promised that access will always be based on need, not on ability to pay.

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