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Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario introduces new health policy recommendations

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The professional association representing registered nurses in Ontario released a new report on Wednesday at Queen’s Park urging the leaders of all parties to work together and refocus the health-care system on disease prevention and health promotion.

“Earning a livable wage, living in affordable housing, being able to afford nutritious food, having access to quality education and child-care services – all of these basic life necessities shape a person’s ability to be healthy,” said Rhonda Seidman-Carlson, President of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO). 

“But for 1.3 million people in this province (1 in 10) having what they need to stay healthy is a tremendous challenge.”

In order to bridge the income inequality gap, RNAO recommends increasing the minimum wage, improving access to affordable housing and transforming the social assistance system to reflect the actual cost of living.

“Nurses also know environmental determinants of health play a huge role in a community’s overall health and well-being,” said Seidman-Carlson.

“We need a continued focus on green energy. And we need better protection from the health effects, particularly in young children, of certain toxics commonly found in our workplaces and homes and the products we consume.”

In their report entitled Why Your Health Matters, RNAO calls for the immediate closure of all remaining coal plants and the right for people to know about the existence of toxics in their homes, workplaces and consumer products.

“Our (health-care) system is evolving, and when you couple that with the complex care needs of Ontarians, you also need RNs who can take on an expanded role,” said Doris Grinspun, Chief Executive Officer, RNAO.

“This will result in faster access to quality care for people.”

Yet Ontario has the second worst RN-to-population ratio with 70.8 (down from 72.1 in 2010) RNs per 10,000 people, while the national average is 83.4 (up from 82.9) RNs per 10,000 people.

“In order to catch-up with the average RN-to-population ratios in Canada, Ontario needs to add to its workforce almost 17,000 RNs (16,831 more RNs),” said Grinspun. 

“RNAO is asking the government to act on good policy and good will by adding at least 9,000 full-time RNs by 2015 to begin to close the gap.”

Grinspun also supports the idea of expanding the role of RNs to deliver a broader range of care, such as ordering lab tests and prescribing medications.

Currently, RNs in the United Kingdom can prescribe lab tests and medications. B. C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba are heading in the same direction.

Along with expanding the role of RN’s, RNAO would like to see the functions of Community Care Access Centres (CCAC) integrated into existing areas of the health system. 

“This means transitioning the 3,500 Case Managers and Care Co-ordinators from CCACs into primary care through a carefully crafted labour strategy that ensures no loss of compensation,” said Grinspun. 

“These expert Case Managers would be anchored in primary care serving Ontarians with complex needs and multiple co-morbidities.”

RNAO wants the government to invest more money in Community Health Centres, Nurse Practitioner-led clinics (NPLCs), Aboriginal Health Access Centres, and Family Health Teams. 

“NPLCs are a highly successful inter-professional model of primary care delivery that has improved access for thousands of people across the province,” she said. 

“They are led by NPs, who work alongside RNs, RPNs, social workers, pharmacists, physicians, dieticians and others. These clinics offer comprehensive care and help people navigate through the health system.”

Other recommendations in the report include a commitment to and expansion of our publicly funded, not-for-profit health-care system and the assurance that everyone pays their fair share of taxes.

“Spending cuts for social programs would only punish the economy even more…not help it,” said Grinspun. 

“We’ve witnessed on the news the effects of austerity policies in parts of Europe.”

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