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Nova Scotia government to limit the use of travel nurses

Health Minister Michelle Thompson says the government wants people in the province who now work as travel nurses to instead take jobs in the provincial health-care system. (CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Michelle Thompson says the government wants people in the province who now work as travel nurses to instead take jobs in the provincial health-care system. (CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government is taking steps to end its reliance on private nursing agencies by limiting the amount of time someone employed as a travel nurse can work in the province.

The province has spent millions of dollars in the last three years on contracts with private agencies for travel nurses who work here temporarily to address staffing shortages. They are often paid twice or more the hourly rate of nurses employed by the Nova Scotia system.

But Health Minister Michelle Thompson said in an interview Monday that her government decided the money could be better spent on people who are a part of the public system and that the use of agency nurses works against efforts to fill the more than 1,000 vacancies in Nova Scotia.

"There is a lucrative nature to this contract and it is a significant cost that, if we were able to lessen, we could reinvest in the system," she told CBC.

"I understand there's a number of reasons why people would want to do agency nursing, but we want those people back in the system."

New limits for travel nurses

Under the terms of the policy change, anyone who works in the province as an agency nurse can only work for 180 days before having to wait a year before working here again. Graduates of Nova Scotia nursing schools will not be allowed to work here as a travel nurse during their first year after graduation.

Thompson said she hopes agency nurses based in the province will opt instead for a permanent job with Nova Scotia Health, the IWK Health Centre or in the long-term care sector.

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, welcomed the policy change.

Hazelton said she and her counterparts across the country have been calling on the federal and provincial governments to address the pervasive use of travel nurses. Quebec has already limited the use and Hazelton commended Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston for doing the same and calling on the rest of the premiers to follow suit.

Janet Hazelton is president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union
Janet Hazelton is president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union

Janet Hazelton is president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union. (Daniel Jardine/CBC)

"We need something to make these come to an end because we're spending an awful lot of health-care dollars," she said in an interview.

With the promise of a job for all graduates of Nova Scotia nursing programs,retention bonuses, a new contract, international recruitment efforts and steps to streamline the licencing process, Hazelton said Nova Scotia is laying the groundwork to fill its vacancies, which in turn will address concerns about work-life balance that have driven many nurses to work for agencies.

Will take time to fix

"It took us 20 years to get to this place, so it's going to take a few years to get back."

There was a time when certain parts of the health-care system could not function without the use of travel nurses, but with the number of nurses recently licenced in the province who are preparing to enter the system Hazelton said she's less concerned that limiting the use of agency nurses will affect capacity in the system.

She's also hearing from members of her union who work part time or casual who are beginning to have trouble getting shifts, meaning they could pick up those hours currently going to travel nurses.

Hazelton said that if there are concerns about staffing in specific parts of Nova Scotia, the province could create its own travel system using nurses who are employed by the province.

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