A radical health care experiment is being launched in Alberta right now. No, it’s not an experiment to test a new wonder drug or breakthrough medical procedure. It’s an experiment to see how few registered nurses can be employed in the health care system before it breaks.
This will not end well.
As a doctor, I know that RNs are trained to think critically about patient needs, take a holistic view of a patient’s condition, and provide high quality care.
RNs give vital input on decisions that profoundly affect patients. They monitor outcomes and notify doctors when changes to a patient’s plan of care are needed. They are on the spot in intensive care when a patient suddenly goes from stable to critical, intervening to keep the patient alive until the doctor arrives.
So what’s the problem?
Well, RNs get paid pretty well. Considering their expertise and the high value of their contributions, this is entirely fair. On government spreadsheets, though, RNs show up as red ink, a cost to be reduced.
The plain truth is this government is desperate to cut costs in all areas of human service to keep their deficits from exploding even more – deficits caused by their financial mismanagement and refusal to address Alberta’s broken fiscal structure.
This is why they have launched their radical experiment, replacing hundreds of registered nurses with licensed practical nurses and health care aides, who, while they play important roles in our health care system, do not have the same level of training.
The stated goal behind slashing the number of RNs is to ensure professionals are “working to their full scope of practice.”
Well, that’s just jargon, deployed to hide the fact that no evidence shows that replacing RNs with nursing aides improves patient care and outcomes. Where is the evidence that nursing aides and attendants (trained 3-6 months) can identify and respond properly to the array of medical and post-surgical complications that RNs (trained 3-4 years) have traditionally been responsible for?
There is none, which is why I call what the Redford Conservatives are doing a radical health care experiment, motivated not by a sound hypothesis, but by a cost-benefit analysis. The only problem is they’ve weighed the so-called benefits in terms of saving money in the short term but have not counted the costs in terms of reduced patient outcomes and greater expense down the road.
I predict there will be precious few benefits from this radical health care experiment and many adverse results. The Redford Conservatives need to abandon this experiment and start putting patients first, not the bottom line.
David Swann was a family physician and public health consultant, and is currently serving his third term as MLA for the constituency of Calgary Mountain-View.