Summer surgery ramp-up affecting nurses’ vacation time, union says

Despite Manitoba’s health minister’s assurances that nurses won’t have their vacation time taken away to deal with the surgical backlog this summer, the nurses’ union says it’s little comfort to those in the profession.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced earlier in the week one strategy being used to address the pandemic backlog in surgeries is to keep surgery volume up over the summer. However, she said nurses’ vacations won’t be on the chopping block.

“We have no plans to cancel nursing vacations this summer so more surgical slates can be scheduled – that is a fact,” Gordon said during the question period in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday.

The statement is not reassuring for many in the industry, according to Manitoba Nurses Union President Darlene Jackson.

“They’ve basically born the brunt of the pandemic and the poor pandemic planning by this government,” she said.

Jackson said while summer vacations haven’t been outright cancelled, the union has heard employers are limiting the number of nurses who can take vacation time over the summer.

She said this means some of those who would normally get the prime time won’t.

“I really think this government has to look at other ways of ramping that surgery up without doing it at the expense of nurses actually having some time to rest and rejuvenate,” she said.

Gordon has said surgical capacity is expected to be maintained at 75 to 100 per cent capacity this summer – a time when surgeries typically slow down by about 40 per cent.

Manitoba’s opposition party says this shouldn’t come at the cost of nurses vacations.

“We know that nurses – many of which are burnt out – are being asked to give up their time with their families this summer,” said Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP health critic, told reporters Tuesday. “That, at this point, is pretty unacceptable.”

A spokesperson for Shared Health told CTV News changes have been made to vacation scheduling for health-care workers in the surgery programs in terms of how many people can be off on vacation at the same time.

“To be clear, no vacations have been cancelled and the amount of available vacation for staff remains the same over the course of the year,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“This change sees the number of staff who can schedule vacations at any one time to be more evenly distributed across the entire year. The shift allows surgical staff to have the number of weeks they are entitled to while adding surgical capacity during traditionally slower periods, to treat more Manitobans waiting for care.”

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