Health Human Resources

Health Human Resources

For years, health-care associations, unions, economists and other experts have been sounding the alarm about health worker shortages, particularly in nursing. A stable and sufficient supply of health professionals continues to be one of Canada’s greatest health-care challenges. Shortages have produced long and frustrating wait times, adverse events for patients, and untenable working conditions for nurses and other health-care workers.

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly exacerbated the ongoing nursing workforce crisis in Canada. Nurses are burned out, demoralized and exhausted as they care for patients and there is a worrying number of health-care workers leaving the profession. Excessive workloads and understaffing have pushed nurses and health workers past the breaking point. The lack of supports and increasing stress levels have forced nurses to retire early, switch to part-time employment, or leave their jobs or the profession altogether.

Furthermore, better data is needed to ensure the health workforce supply meets the population demand. Poor data means decisions around planning, staffing, deploying and recruiting and training continue to be made in the dark.



Tackling the health human resource crisis continues to dominate our advocacy work. We have seen significant progress in 2023-2024, including the February 2023 Canada Health Transfer agreement, health discussions during Council of the Federation meetings, necessary health reforms from coast to coast, and the October 2023 health ministers’ meeting in Charlottetown.

All levels of government from all political stripes recognize the critical nursing shortages and are working together to address this issue, as an increasing number of Canadians (approximately six million) are experiencing eroding access to primary care. From our perspective, nursing retention is the top priority, including attracting back those who left the profession or the public sector, followed by additional recruitment.

Recent federal investment and the subsequent bilateral agreements with provinces and territories provide funding in urgent areas of need, such as mental health and long-term care, and support extended roles for nurses, including expanding the number of nurse practitioners to address the health workforce shortages. Every government in Canada recognizes the health workforce crisis and has agreed to tackle it through coordinated efforts, including better data sharing and planning. The Charlottetown communiqué also foreshadows an opportunity for greater pan-Canadian mobility for nurses in the upcoming years. In December 2023, Health Workforce Canada was finally inaugurated to improve pan-Canadian health workforce data and planning, a long-standing advocacy ask from health partners such as CNA. Other recent announcements include federal student loan forgiveness and tax breaks for nurses working in remote and Indigenous communities.

Nurses’ mental health and working environments must improve to get through this crisis. We will continue to advocate for retention measures, including direct mental health support. To optimize Canada’s health systems, it is time to let nurses work to the full extent of their scope of practice and seek to expand it. Nurses’ full potential remains an untapped resource supporting team-based care as we advance under the “right health professional, for the right patient, at the right time” principle.

Here are some highlights of our recent work:

  • In 2023, CNA met with over 63 public officials including the Prime Minister, premiers, ministers, political staff, members of parliament, and senators, and organized a parliamentary Hill day in November to discuss nursing shortages, burnout and Canada’s health workforce crisis.
  • In October 2023, CNA participated in the health ministers' meeting in Charlottetown, sharing its nursing perspective on the health human resources crisis, and voicing its support for growing momentum for health reforms that unlock nurses' potential.
  • In July 2023, CNA participated in the Council of Federation meeting in Winnipeg, meeting with premiers, and advocating for solutions to the nursing shortages across the country.
  • Stop the Bleeding in Canada’s Health Workforce: Read CNA’s recommendations to the federal government on how to address nursing shortages and the health workforce crisis.
  • CNA has been advocating for reinstatement of the federal chief nursing officer, with appropriate resources and senior-level decision-making authority, for many years. We were pleased when that position was permanently reinstated in August 2022.
  • Joint Health Human Resources Roadmap: CNA collaborated with the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) to develop recommendations to the federal, provincial and territorial governments to help solve the health workforce crisis.
  • House of Commons Health Committee study on Canada’s Health Workforce: CNA submitted a joint brief with CMA and CFPC with recommendations on health human resources. CNA also appeared twice as a witness during the committee’s study on March 2 and May 9.
  • House of Commons Human Resources Committee study on Labour Shortages and the Care Economy: CNA submitted a brief with recommendations to address nursing shortages in Canada. CNA also appears as a witness during the committee’s study on March 28.
  • Letter-writing campaign, health-care workforce crisis: Join CNA and nurses from across the country by sending a letter to your MP to urge them to stand with and support nurses and all health-care workers.
  • Following the 2021 federal election and before the speech from the throne, CNA wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging his government to take urgent action to rebuild Canada’s health workforce by investing in a pan-Canadian health-human resources strategy that addresses critical staffing shortages and data gaps.
  • CNA’s 2021 federal election platform included recommendations to support health-care workers by urging the federal government to invest in mental health supports and to address the data infrastructure gaps of the health workforce.

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