More than 350 doctors from across Ontario are warning there is a crisis in emergency departments.
In an open letter released on Monday, they say the problem is a severe shortage of nurses.
“This time, it is not an issue of a lack of beds or ventilators. It is because we are losing our acute care nursing colleagues in droves,” the letter reads.
The physicians want the province to hike the pay of critical-care nurses and repeal Bill 124, which caps raises at one per cent a year.
They say nurses have not seen salary increases on par with inflation in over a decade.
It says several have died from COVID, hundreds have become ill and now many are leaving due to burnout, PTSD and “the utter disrespect they face from the Ontario government.”
The letter adds entire sections of emergency rooms are closing because there is not enough staff.
“Nurses’ collective bargaining is limited by the fact that they cannot strike because they are essential workers. They can, however, leave the profession and many are voting with their feet, quitting in unprecedented numbers,” the letter goes on to say.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) says the profession is experiencing “an alarming exodus.”
A survey put out by the RNAO between Jan. 29 and Feb. 22 received responses from more than 2,100 nurse practitioners, registered nurses and nursing students working in Ontario.
More than 95 per cent of the nurses surveyed said the pandemic had affected their work, with a majority of nurses reporting high-stress levels, and at least 13 per cent of RNs aged 26-35 reported they were very likely to leave the profession when the pandemic ends.
Monday’s letter claims the “exodus” will put provincial healthcare at risk.
The government says Bill 124 ensures that increases in public sector compensation reflect the fiscal situation of the province.