An extra 45 nurse practitioners are to be hired across B.C. this year, including 10 in Fraser Health and nine in the Vancouver Coastal health region.
The province last spring announced it would spend more than $22 million over three years to add 190 new nurse practitioner positions.
They’ll work in primary care settings, such as medical clinics, mental health clinics, residential care homes and First Nations services.
The new positions funded this year will target high-priority groups, such as the frail elderly, mentally ill, substance abusers and patients without family doctors.
B.C. already has more than 250 registered nurse practitioners but many have been unable to find work in the province and dozens more graduate from training each year, often leaving for other jurisdictions.
The province in October became the second in Canada to let nurse practitioners admit and discharge patients from hospitals, while working with doctors and other health-care providers.
That followed legislation in 2011 allowing nurse practitioners to make diagnoses, prescribe drugs, order diagnostic tests and treat most common conditions.
Doctors have resisted additional powers for nurse practitioners, fearing they may end up doing nearly all the work of physicians for much lower pay of around $100,000 a year.
But the positions are seen as important in shifting the health care system from an acute care model to a preventive and chronic care model that better fits the needs of B.C.’s aging population.
“Nurse practitioners are a valuable part of our health-care team,” Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said.
B.C. Nurse Practitioner Association president Rosemary Graham said graduating nurse practitioners have been frustrated by the lack of opportunity, but added she’s hopeful the profession will gradually prove their value and build a case for more funding.
She said more reforms are needed to recognize and improve understanding in the medical community of how doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners can work together in collaborative teams.
“Historically, nurse practitioners have been positioned as gap fillers,” Graham said.
“This generation going forward wants to do more – not just fill gaps, not replace physicians, but to find their own unique place in health care.”
Funding for new nurse practitioners in Fraser Health is allocated for Burnaby (focus: refugees and new immigrants), the Tri-Cities (frail elderly with chronic conditions), Eagle Ridge hospital (frail elderly), Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows (homeless, chronic mentally ill), Surrey-North Delta (two positions: marginalized substance users, urban aboriginals), Hope (frail elderly in care homes and First Nations), Langley (frail elderly in hospital and post-discharge), White Rock/South Surrey (homebound or hospitalized frail elderly) and Chilliwack (homebound frail elderly). See more details here.