Newly gathered data underscores a disturbing rise in mistakes within Canadian healthcare facilities. In the span from March 2022 to March 2023, one in every 17 hospital admissions saw patients experiencing harm, according to a disturbing report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI). This suggests that an astounding 145,000 Canadians who went to hospitals for treatment may have unfortunately come away with an infection, pneumonia, medication error, or bedsore.
Setting a worrying trend, this marks the third consecutive year of escalating patient harm. “The figures might catch some unawares. However, it is paramount that we disseminate this information to hasten necessary reform,” revealed Kate Parson from CIHI.
In a year-on-year comparison, the report revealed a 20% upsurge in hospital-acquired urinary tract infections and a 25% spike in aspiration pneumonia. The latter condition occurs when patients inhale foreign substances like fluids or food, leading to lung damage. Shockingly, incidents of pressure ulcers, or bedsores, rose by a stomach-churning 50%, although some of this could be attributed to improved data record-keeping.
A novel feature of the analysis showed how hospitals increasingly relied on overtime work and agency staff to maintain patient care. The data suggested a firm correlation between the observed harms and staffing level issues.
The health care system saw a 17% increase in sick leaves from nurses, which equated to about 6,500 nurses being removed from the system. Nurses logged around 14 million hours of overtime in 2022-23 — shockingly, a 50% increase compared to the figures in 2021-22.
This overload of forced overtime is leading to nurse burnout and an increasing exodus from the profession, according to insiders. With existing human resources stretched thin, the capacity to deliver effective patient care is inevitably compromised.
A nurse from an Ontario hospital, who wished to remain anonymous under the pseudonym ‘Miryam’, lamented the lack of adequate staffing as a root of many problems. She exposed the intensified pressure that nurses face, suggesting it hamstrings their ability to deliver quality care. Her patients died, possibly due to pressure injuries, a painful irony not lost on this beleaguered health worker, forced into inaction by systemic issues.
Along with an 80% increase in hours billed by private or agency nurses and health workers in hospitals, the report also uncovered the ineffectiveness of such efforts in reducing harm to the pre-pandemic levels. The transient nature of these agency nurses disrupts continuity of care, exacerbating patient safety issues.
The need of the hour, as indicated by the report, is keeping staff nurses at work through flexible hours and fulfilling adequate staffing needs. This would let nurses familiarise themselves with hospital systems while ensuring they have the bandwidth to adequately care for a fixed number of patients per shift.
For instance, states such as California have implemented laws mandating a minimum RN-to-patient ratio, leading to a dive in patient readmissions, and infection rates, while increasing family satisfaction. Investing in hospital staffing would eventually pay off by minimizing harm-induced elongated hospital stays.
“Investment in healthcare is non-negotiable. Adequate nursing at the bedside is critical. Without that, these damning figures will only escalate,” warned Deb Lefebvre of the Registered Nurses of Ontario. This glaring spotlight on Canada’s healthcare crisis is a wakeup call for urgent intervention. Time and lives are at stake.