Government responds to RNAO’s call for increased enrollment in nursing education programs

Results of a January 2020 RNAO survey showed that an alarming number of young RNs are planning on leaving the profession post-pandemic. In addition, an even higher proportion of late career nurses indicated their intention of retiring in the next few months. This anticipated scenario threatens to worsen the already high RN vacancy rates across the health care system brought about by illness or pandemic burnout, with dire consequences for Ontarians’ access to quality care.

In its Vision for Tomorrow report, the RNAO Nurse Practitioner Task Force’s first recommendation is to increase the supply of NPs across all sectors and settings. Nurse practitioners in Ontario enable improved access to primary care, acute care and long-term care. NPs provide comprehensive care for vulnerable and underserviced populations, and lead to improved health and health care cost outcomes across all sectors, as well as increased access to care, particularly in rural and remote areas.

In its March 24 response to the provincial budget RNAO reminded all, once again, that Ontario has the lowest RN per population in Canada. It insisted on the need to hire thousands of additional RNs and NPs, measures to retain nurses currently working in the system and redoubling our efforts to recruit future nurses. In particular, RNAO called on the government to increase the number of seats in RN nursing education programs by 10 per cent this year and further increases of 10 per cent in subsequent years.

In an April 28 joint letter to the Ontario government, RNAO and the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) universities asked to immediately increase the intake into baccalaureate nursing programs (BScN) as well as NP programs in the province, starting with the Fall 2021 semester.

The Ontario government announced on May 14 that it is investing $35 million to increase enrollment in nursing education programs in publicly-assisted colleges and universities across the province. The new spaces will be available for Fall 2021 and Winter 2022 cohorts and will introduce approximately 1,130 new practical nurses and 870 registered nurses into the health care system. The government also announced the expansion of clinical education placements for nursing students and personal support worker students in the long-term care sector.

The government’s announcement partially addresses RNAO’s call to increase university seats in BScN. While RNAO is pleased with the announcement, it is insufficient to respond to the demands on RN and NP care during and post pandemic. RNAO will further comment on this need in the days to come.