Alberta commits to expanding duties of licensed practical nurses

EDMONTON — Alberta's 16,000 licensed practical nurses will soon be allowed to carry out more duties as a way to spread out work and free up time for other health providers.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the changes will allow LPNs to perform duties they've already been trained to do but can't, because rules haven't been updated for well over a decade.

"These amendments will better reflect what our health system needs here in Alberta and what LPNs are already competent to do," Shandro said Thursday.

Starting Feb. 1, LPNs will be allowed to administer blood and dispense certain drugs, provide ultrasounds for bedside assessments, and give intravenous nutrition and medication by invasive procedures, such as central venous lines.

"Patients won't have to wait for another provider to perform these activities, and LPNs will find their work more satisfying," said Shandro.

"And the changes mean that registered nurses can spend their time doing what they're trained to do."

Shandro said the new duties will align with those already in place in other Canadian jurisdictions.

Valerie Paice, president of the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta, said the changes "will increase continuity of care, increase safety and improve the overall patient experience."

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd said the changes are "a positive step" for LPNs and the health system.

But he said he worries about their pay, given that Premier Jason Kenney's United Conservative government has said hard decisions are coming to reduce public spending and balance the budget.

LPNs make between $26 to $35 an hour.

"We hope (the government) are not going to be then looking to cut their salaries along with (those of) other workers," said Shepherd.

The announcement is among recent initiatives by Shandro to get more health work done with existing resources.

Last month, he said the province will hire 30 new nurse practitioners to work in remote areas or places where it's difficult for patients to see family doctors. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have taken advanced education and can perform tasks such as setting broken bones, doing checkups, ordering tests and prescribing medications.

Alberta has 600 nurse practitioners, but almost all of them work in hospitals or outpatient clinics. The goal is to have them work in areas like Bonnyville, where the primary care network there has 600 patients on a wait-list for a doctor.

This report by The Canadian Press was originally published on Oct. 17, 2019.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press