Absenteeism and overtime rates clearly indicate need for more emphasis on safe nursing staff numbers in Canada

Publish date: Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Nursing profession

Nursing shortages

Workplace issues/practices

New figures on rates of absenteeism and overtime worked by nurses throughout Canada clearly illustrate the need for all health care systems to place more emphasis on safe staffing levels at hospitals and other care facilities, says Canadian Federation of Nurses UnionsPresident Linda Silas.

The statistics, compiled for CFNU from Canada's Labour Force Survey by Informetrica Ltd., show that in 2012 Registered Nurses and nurse supervisors working in the health care and social assistance sector worked well over 21.5 million hours of overtime.

"Nurses know from the front lines that the situation is even worse than indicated by these statistics," Silas said. The Informetrica statistics show that each week in 2012 an average of 18,900 of Canada's 251,500 Registered Nurses and nurse supervisors in the sector were absent from work due to own illness or disability. "These levels of overtime and absenteeism clearly indicate that nursing workloads have reached a point that is not safe or acceptable," Silas said, noting that the connection between heavy nursing workloads and declining patient care and safety has been exhaustively researched and is well understood.

"Safe staffing should be the guiding principle in patient safety in Canada, and it makes sense to view all decisions about staffing as investments in patient care and our health care system," Silas said. "More than any other factor, safe levels of nursing staff are the key to an efficient, cost-effective and sustainable health care system that meets the needs of patients, their families and all Canadians," Silas stated.

The hours of overtime shown by Informetrica's research to have been worked by nurses in 2012 are equivalent to 11,900 full-time equivalent jobs, Silas noted. The survey results also showed nearly a third of Canada's nurses worked overtime each week, with the average total overtime worked at 6.6 hours per week - both figures essentially unchanged since 2010. Total cost of paid overtime in 2012 was estimated at $746.5 million, up from $660.3 million in 2010.

But many nurses work overtime without being paid, Silas observed, and the figures compiled by Informetrica indicate the value of this unpaid work exceeded $200 million. The provinces with the highest number of nurses working overtime were Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Infometrica estimated the annual cost of absenteeism was $734.3 million in 2012 - an increase from $711 million in 2010, although the number of nurses reporting absence due to own illness or disability had declined. However, this does not account for savings that could be realized through better quality, properly staffed care.

Provinces with the highest absenteeism rates in 2012 were New Brunswick and Manitoba, both at about 10 per cent, and those with the lowest rates were Saskatchewan (5.5 per cent) and Quebec(6.7 per cent).


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