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Survey among nurses: They would work more hours in mixed public-private practice

Montreal, June 19, 2008 – A survey conducted among nurses by the Montreal Economic Institute reveals that the report of the Quebec roundtable on the nursing workforce neglects an important factor in nurses’ availability: more than half (54%) are willing to work on weekdays in the private sector in addition to their usual work weeks (34 hours on average among respondents) in the public sector.

This would be comparable to hiring the equivalent of 3,730 full-time nurses on weekdays, 2,210 on week evenings, 1,350 on weekends and 290 on statutory holidays. This ability to provide working time suggests that the shortage of nurses may not be as substantial as it generally believed. Responses from nurses give reason to think that practising in the private sector would not be a displacement of human resources but could lead to increased supply both through a greater number of hours worked and through a reduced tendency for nurses to leave the profession.

To put these figures in perspective, the public system will be short 2,643 nurses in meeting its needs this year, according to estimates from the Department of Health and Social Services. This amounts to 3.8% of members of the profession practising in Quebec. The 1,420 persons surveyed by the Montreal Economic Institute (the methodology is available on its website) have considered working an average of up to 15 hours a month in the private sector, in addition to their usual duties in the public sector.

While touching on some of the observations mentioned in the MEI’s survey, the roundtable on the nursing workforce is upset that this reserve labour supply could be diverted from the public sector. The roundtable, in which all the unions took part, suggests reducing the use of independent labour and of overtime. However, the current popularity of employment agencies among nurses seems above all to be a symptom of flexibility problems and rigid work schedules in the public sector rather than the cause of the nursing shortage. Accordingly, a wider opening to mixed practice could be a way of reducing pressure on Quebec’s health care system.

The Economic Note, titled The availability of nurses for mixed practice, was prepared by Julie Frappier, a health economist and holder of a master’s degree in economics from the University of Montreal.

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Information and interview requests: André Valiquette, Director of communications, Montreal Economic Institute, Tel.: (514) 273-0969 ext. 2225 / Cell: (514) 574-0969 / avaliquette (@iedm.org)

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