Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara as well as Manitoba’s deputy health minister.

These meetings were fruitful, as we were able to have frank discussions on the problems plaguing our public health care system and short, mid-range and long-term game plans to address these problems.

For those who may not be aware, deputy ministers have responsibility for a department's day-to-day operations, budget, and program development. They are members of the public service, which means that deputy ministers are non-partisan and usually work for a ministry for a longer period, providing stability.

In my last message to you, I compared our situation to a big ship that must be turned around.

The next weeks and months will remain difficult in our health care system, but in keeping with the nautical comparison above, what is different is that we now have a government steering with us instead of against us.

We must remember that it took years for us to get to the point that we are now, and it will take years to reverse the damage.

On November 17, Minister Asagwara held a press conference to announce that the government is implementing three projects that prioritize investments in public health care with the aim of developing long-term capacity for surgical needs. These projects are a mobile MRI service to be deployed in the Northern Regional Health Authority; the expansion of surgical slates at the Grace Hospital; and the expansion of spinal surgery programs at Brandon Regional Health Centre, Concordia Hospital and HSC.

But what garnered the biggest share of the attention was when the Minister’s announcement that they were “winding down the work” of the Surgical and Diagnostic Task Force, although patients already scheduled for treatment and those in the queue will get their care.

An aspect that we at MNU found very troubling was the information shared by Minister Asagwara that one of the surgeries cost SEVEN times more than what it would have cost here in Manitoba.

It’s infuriating to see our public dollars go to private clinics, especially those outside of Canada. We hope that more of these details will be shared with Manitobans over the coming months so that we can see a full accounting of what was spent and where.

Finally, it was an honour for me to represent the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) and deliver a presentation to the Parliamentary Finance Committee on the federal government’s 2024 budget, which took place on November 15.

Not only was I able to deliver CFNU’s recommendations to the committee, I was also able to share with them the dire daily reality of nurses across our province.

And I brought home the idea that these recommendations, which are listed below, would help the situation in Manitoba immensely.

  • That the federal government introduce a tax credit for nurses and other health professionals that incentivizes the retention and return of health professionals to the workforce.
  • That the government provide funding in the amount of $8 million over four years through the Public Health Agency of Canada, or PHAC, to tailor and pilot an internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy program for nurses.
  • That the government work with the provinces and territories to set legislated limits on consecutive hours of work for nurses.
  • That the government include measures in the bilateral health agreements with provinces and territories that phase out private nursing agencies from provincial spending, ensuring federal investments aren’t wasted on private agency profits.  
  • That the government earmark $10 million in funding to establish a Health Workplace Violence Reduction Plan, that includes key recommendations from the parliamentary health committee’s study from 2019, including: a national public awareness campaign; a pan-Canadian framework for the prevention of violence in health care settings enshrined in federal legislation; targeted funding to the provinces and territories to upgrade violence-prevention infrastructure and training; and appropriate training of prosecutors and public safety personnel to enforce Bill C-3, which came into law at the national level nearly two years ago.
  • That the government lead a National Nursing Retention Strategy in partnership with provincial and territorial governments, that advances proven retention, return and recruitment initiatives including: Adopting safe staffing measures such as nurse-to-patient ratios; Expanding nursing programs and supporting students with mentorship and paid preceptorships; Supporting nurses across their careers through initiatives such as bridging programs and flexible schedules; and expediting registration and workforce integration for internationally educated nurses through an ethical framework.

The federal budget is expected to be delivered in March next year, and we’re hopeful that these recommendations will become reality.