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Health-care workers' pandemic overtime hours highest in more than a decade, CIHI data shows

OTTAWA — New labour data offers a snapshot of COVID-19’s toll on health-care workers during the earlier part of the pandemic.
Health-care workers take a rest in the employee break room in the intensive care unit at the Humber River Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

OTTAWA — New labour data offers a snapshot of COVID-19’s toll on health-care workers during the earlier part of the pandemic.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information said Thursday that more than one in five health-care workers put in overtime in 2021, and that the average overtime hours were the highest in more than a decade.

The CIHI report cites Statistics Canada survey data that found more than 236,000 health care workers worked overtime in 2021, with an average of 8.2 hours per week of paid overtime and 5.8 hours per week of unpaid overtime.

When broken down by jobs, 45 per cent of paramedics who responded said they worked overtime, while 34 per cent of salaried family doctors and 31 per cent of respiratory therapists also said they worked extra hours.

The data comes as several hospitals across the country report overwhelming cases of flu and respiratory syncytial virus that are compounding pre-existing workplace stresses and labour shortages.

CIHI's manager of health workforce information says hospital planners and policymakers must grapple with pressures that vary across the country.

"We're continuing to have the ongoing pressures of the pandemic and the subsidiary effects of that," says Lynn McNeely, noting that includes a backlog created by previously postponed and cancelled non-urgent procedures.

Data provided by nursing regulatory colleges also show employment shifts in 2021, which ended with almost 500 fewer registered nurses in long-term care and more than 100 fewer licensed practical nurses working in community health agencies.

During that same calendar year, 1,251 more registered nurses and 667 more licensed practical nurses worked in direct patient care at private nursing agencies, occupational health centres or were self-employed.

The report also quantifies the plummet in physician services during the earliest days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 demands cancelled elective surgeries and curbed non-critical care.

CIHI cites payment data that shows doctors provided nearly eight per cent fewer health-care services in the first three months of the fiscal year starting March 2020 but that service rebounded to pre-pandemic levels by January to March of 2021.

— by Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2022.

The Canadian Press