Alarming new statistics indicate an escalating trend of medical mishaps in Canadian hospitals. In the span from March 2022 to March 2023, approximately 145,000 Canadian citizens, or one in every 17 hospitalizations, involved a patient suffering an adverse event, as disclosed by a report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
Healthcare detriments varied from medication errors to the development of pneumonia, infection, or bedsores. “In the past three years, we have noticed detrimental inclines,” declared Kate Parson from the CIHI. The distribution of this information is motivated by the desire to stimulate reform, she added.
The annual report suggests a 20% surge in hospital-induced urinary tract infections, on top of a 25% increase in aspiration pneumonia, caused by inhaling food or other substances, leading to respiratory issues. Pressure ulcers or bedsores saw a dramatic 50% increase, a part of which may be attributable to enhanced data collection methods.
Interestingly, the report also sheds light on how hospital staffing levels, along with the heavy reliance on overtime, and temporary staff were linked to the incidence of harm to patients. A significant 17% rise in sick leaves among nurses equated to the removal of an equivalent of 6,500 nurses from the healthcare workforce. Concurrently, nurses registered approximately 14 million hours of overtime in 2022-23—an unprecedented 50% increase from the previous year.
Strains stemming from forced overtime and understaffing have ignited an exodus of nurses from the profession, leading to compromised patient care, warned industry insiders. Burnout, exhaustion, rapid pace and dreaded pressure sores, essentially skin damage caused by prolonged pressure that interrupts blood supply, have become commonalities. These medical lacunae have claimed lives and caused immense mental distress to healthcare professionals tasked with preventing them.
The hours billed by private agencies supplying healthcare professionals have also witnessed a drastic 80% hike in a year. Despite the small tally, around 1% of the total, the rise is tangible — from 850,000 hours in 2020-21 to 1.5 million hours in 2021-2022. However, the increased presence of agency nurses did not alleviate the frequency of patient harm.
The CIHI report points to maintaining a robust presence of staff nurses as a solution to reduce patient harm. Strategies encompass offering flexible working hours, employing more full-time staff and thereby ensuring that sufficient nurses are familiar with hospital mechanisms to effectively cater to patients’ needs.
Several indications suggest that adopting mandated RN-to-patient ratios, similar to certain US states, reduces cases of hospital-incurred infections and patient readmissions, increases patient satisfaction and can potentially offset the expenses invoked by increased staffing and retaining measures through decreased patient harm cases.
“If we do not invest in our healthcare system’s future and ensure an adequate presence of nursing professionals, these alarming figures are likely to worsen,” stressed Deb Lefebvre, a registered nurse and a board member of the Registered Nurses of Ontario.