Opinion

EDITORIAL: Dialogue needed in nurse wars

Public perception is the victim in the turf war between nurses and Island Health.

The health authority is revamping its patient care model at Vancouver Island hospitals in what it says is a bid to combat spiralling health care costs and chronic overtime among registered nurses.

The B.C. Nurses’ Union and Island Health are locked in a bitter dispute over the change that would see care aides take over some functions nurses currently provide.

The public squabble hurts the perception of public health care and diminishes trust in the system.

Frequently we hear of patients waiting for a nurse to take them to the bathroom or to bring medication. If this program means an end to that, and the overworking of nurses, then we’re all for it.

If the new model increases the ratio of caregivers (of any level) to patients, that has to round up to a good thing.

Perception is the key problem and Island Health could communicate better why this model of care will succeed. It needs to educate the public on the benefit of using more care aides, what role those staff already play and what skills and education level they possess.

With little information out there, the public is left to sort out what ‘care aide’ even means.

Aides have less training than licensed practical nurses or registered nurses, but patients aren’t exactly being put in the hands of custodians. While the level of care will be lower, the perception is it could be detrimentally lower.

Perhaps Island Health should have started better communication earlier, consulting at greater length with nurses, perhaps even asking the public to participate in the conversation.

A pilot project at Victoria General Hospital, albeit in the neuroscience department as opposed to acute care, showed some success according to participating staff. However, BCNU says the new model at times leaves nurses with no direct contact with patients, endangering their care.

It again comes back to good dialogue.

With less direct contact between nurses and patients, communication will be critical when the plan is implemented in April at both Greater Victoria hospitals. Caregivers in general will need to convey and discuss critical observances that can serve as life-saving clues in patient health.

The pending patient care changes could work, without the public bickering.

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