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Sask. ER nurses say province relies too much on travel nurses to address healthcare issues


A letter signed by 49 emergency room nurses in Saskatoon is calling on the provincial government to reduce money spent on out of province travel nurses and further support homegrown health-care staff.

The opposition NDP obtained a copy of the letter that was sent to Health Minister Everett Hindley. All 49 signatures were from emergency room nurses at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon.

“The letter details how the over-reliance on out-of-province travel nurses is eroding morale and making staffing issues worse,” an NDP news release said.

According to the letter, Saskatchewan nurses who want to pick up extra shifts are told they are not allowed because the province has to give them to travel nurses first in order to meet contractual obligations to nurse agencies outside the province.

The NDP said the most recent data from the Ministry of Health claims there are 242 travel nurses working in the province, with the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) predicting $70 million will be spent on travel nurses in 2024.

“That means the province is paying approximately $289,256 for each travel nurse,” the release said.

NDP Finance Critic Trent Wotherspoon said in 2023, $59 million was spent on private contract nurses in 2023.

Hindley said Saskatchewan is one of many provinces experiencing nursing and other health-care staff shortages, which has created a need to hire from outside of the province.

“This has led to an increased need for contracted staff resources which we are doing here in Saskatchewan as do other provinces,” Hindley said.

According to Hindley, the hiring of out of province nurses alleviates pressures on the healthcare system while recruitment of provincial nurses takes place.

“As we continue to fill the vacancies that we have when it comes to nursing, we will be phasing away from and phasing out the use of contract nurses as we build a healthcare system here in Saskatchewan,” Hindley said.

NDP MLA Jared Clarke said if the province’s plan was working, they wound not have had to spend $59 million on travel nurses in 2023.

Clarke said in the letter, nurses claimed morale is being eroded and staffing issues are not improving with the province’s over reliance on travel nurses.

According to Hindley, the province’s Health Human Resources Action Plan released in September of 2022 is resulting in the hiring of health-care staff including nurses.

In the letter, nurses say most of those hires have been out of province travel nurses, the NDP said. 

“We can find ways to attract agency nurses and keep them coming back, why can we not find ways to retain our own nurses,” Clarke said was a direct quote from the letter.

Hindley said over 19,000 nurses’ call Saskatchewan home. “It’s an increase of over 6,400 nurses since 2007,” he added.

Since December of 2022, Hindley said over 1,000 graduate nurses have started working in Saskatchewan.

“It’s clear in the letter that contract nursing has gone from a fill in the gaps opportunity to becoming a baked in integral part of this tired and out of touch government’s staffing plan,” Clarke said.

A redacted version of the letter can be read here Top Stories


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