Editorial

The masters of Manitoba’s health care seem delighted with the progress they are making in patching holes in the complex system that helps restore ailing Manitobans to good health. For the nurses who actually help patients, however, the picture is far less bright.

The masters of Manitoba’s health care seem delighted with the progress they are making in patching holes in the complex system that helps restore ailing Manitobans to good health. For the nurses who actually help patients, however, the picture is far less bright.

Premier Heather Stefanson was at Health Sciences Centre last week to celebrate the radiology equipment that allows doctors to treat patients who would otherwise require surgery. The equipment, bought with the help of a $5-million donation from the late Paul Albrechtsen, has been in use since March 2020, but last week seemed like a good moment to draw attention to it.

<p>RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Premier Heather Stefanson was at Health Sciences Centre last week to celebrate the radiology equipment that allows doctors to treat patients who would otherwise require surgery.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Premier Heather Stefanson was at Health Sciences Centre last week to celebrate the radiology equipment that allows doctors to treat patients who would otherwise require surgery.

The premier was proud of the 20 per cent increase over three years in the number of patient scans performed at HSC’s Diagnostic Centre of Excellence, though the backlog of patients awaiting diagnostic procedures has grown during those three years. The equipment may in time help reduce the backlog, but that effect has not yet been seen.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon, meanwhile, was at Red River College Polytech drawing attention to expansion of the college’s nursing education program. The government cut its grant to RRC in 2018, reducing capacity of the nursing program to 150 students from 225 students. The government has now provided funds to restore 30 of the 75 student places it previously cut. Ms. Gordon said this measure brings the government closer to its goal of increasing nursing education programs by 400 students.

For nurses now on the job, however, there was little to cheer about. Experienced nurses at HSC’s emergency department who spoke privately to this newspaper warned the public is at risk because of staff shortages. Many of the most senior nurses have been retiring on account of overwork and discouragement.

Experienced nurses at HSC’s emergency department who spoke privately to this newspaper warned the public is at risk because of staff shortages.

These nurses spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution for making their concerns known.

Nurses who graduated last week from the University of Manitoba College of Nursing also spoke of difficult conditions in the hospitals. During their hospital placements, they learned of the punishing workload they will face. In some cases, the nursing students were trained by rookie nurses because the experienced ones had retired.

The ruling Progressive Conservative party is making visible efforts to repair the damage it inflicted on Manitoba health care under the leadership of former premier Brian Pallister. It is seeking thanks from the public for restoring 30 of the 75 nursing student places it eliminated at RRC three years earlier.

The public may, however, be more impressed by the warnings from working nurses and newly minted nursing graduates. The damage from previous cuts is still being visited upon patients. Nurses are having to cut corners because departments are understaffed and nurses cannot give their patients the required attention.

Nurses are having to cut corners because departments are understaffed and nurses cannot give their patients the required attention.

The premier and the health minister have wisely chosen not to appear in front of the nurses who indirectly work for them, because there they would get no applause. If they could gather a crowd, it would not be a friendly one.

It is difficult to work up a sense of gratitude to a government that saved money by reducing nursing education and is now patting itself on the back for starting to repair part of the damage it previously inflicted. Manitoba patients are paying for these misjudgments today.

The Conservatives’ standard defence of their health-care record – that the former NDP government also managed health care badly – will offer no comfort to discouraged nurses, or to the patients who count on them for care.