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BC announces minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, retention and recruitment investments

To continue building on the commitments made at the signing of the Nurses’ Bargaining Association (NBA) collective agreement in April 2023, the Province and BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU) have made significant progress determining minimum nurse-to-patient ratios.

This progress is supported by a $237-million investment to help retain the nurses B.C. has now, return nurses back to the bedside and recruit the nurses B.C. needs for the future.

“Nurses play an important and pivotal role in providing quality patient care,” says Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “Through our collaborative work with the BCNU, we are taking critical steps to address staffing challenges around the province. To meet these ratios, we’re making significant investments to retain our existing nurse workforce, support student nurses wanting to have a rich and rewarding career in BC’s health-care system and recruit more nurses. Building and strengthening our health workforce means a better workplace for health-care workers, quality care for patients and a stronger health-care system for everyone in B.C.”

Work on ratios a first in Canada

Together with the BCNU, the Ministry of Health has established minimum nurse-to-patient ratios for six health-care settings in acute care facilities. Examples include most adult medical and surgical units, where the ratio will be one nurse to every four patients, and high-acuity units, where it will be one nurse to two patients.

This work, the first in Canadian history, is part of the government’s efforts to improve the delivery of quality patient care, better working conditions for nurses and a stronger health-care system throughout the province.

Effective immediately, the Ministry of Health and BCNU will work with health authorities to implement a policy directive issued in support of this first phase to establish these minimum nurse-to-patient ratios. Next, the minimum nurse-to-patient ratios in remaining hospital settings and non-hospital settings, such as long-term care and health authority community settings, will be determined. 

Another update about the remaining ratios will occur by June 2024.

“This is an important announcement for nurses and patients in B.C.,” says Adriane Gear, president, BCNU. “This commitment is a bold step for government to take and we commend its willingness to listen, learn and invest in nurses. We know that minimum nurse-to-patient ratios improve job satisfaction, create safe and healthy workplaces for nurses and improve patient care.

$237-million investment

To support the implementation of minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, the Province is investing $237 million in initiatives that will retain, encourage the return of, and recruit new nurses into the health-care system, such as:

  • $169.5 million in one-time funding for the expansion of provincewide rural-retention incentives, GoHealth BC signing bonuses, recruitment signing bonuses for rural and remote communities, signing bonuses for difficult-to-fill urban and metro vacancies, and consistent with the agreement reached with the NBA in April of 2023, additional funding to support nurses in the areas of recruitment, retention and/or mental wellness.
  • $68.1 million in one-time funding for training and licensing investments, which will go toward expanding the internationally educated nurse (IEN) bridging program, implementing a licensed practical nurse (LPN) to registered nurse (RN) bridging pilot program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, a nursing student tuition credit, an Indigenous nursing student tuition credit and new graduate transition program bursaries.

 Jim Gould, interim CEO, BCNU, says: “Minimum nurse-to-patient ratios are the single most-important policy solution available to address the staffing crisis in this province. After years of advocacy, today’s announcement is an encouraging step in the right direction toward transforming the delivery of health care in this province.” 

This work will build on the Province’s strong recruitment and retention results. In 2023, 6,567 nurses were newly registered in B.C.

Quick Facts:

  • Minimum nurse-to-patient ratios represent the minimum number of nurses deemed necessary to care for a maximum number of patients on a given unit.
  • The new ratios are the first of their kind in Canada and anchor the delivery of patient care to a simple, clear formula that transparently indicates nurse staffing requirements throughout the province.
  • Implementation of ratios has been demonstrated to decrease nurse’s occupational injuries, return nurses to the bedside and significantly reduce nurse turnover and vacancy rates.
  • Minimum nurse-to-patient ratios can improve patient safety and hospital stay lengths.
  • GoHealth BC is the province’s travel nursing program, whose staff are made up of members of the BCNU.

Source: British Columbia government news release. To read the entire release, visit here.