Nurses throughout Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland are protesting changes that will see some of their patient care responsibilities transferred to health care assistants.
The new patient care model, to be implemented at Victoria General and Royal Jubilee in January, will see health care assistants help patients with bathing, feeding and using the washroom instead of nurses.
Several hundred nurses were protesting outside Royal Jubilee Hospital Friday.
Island Health officials say the changes will free up nurses to focus on patient assessment and care planning, which will decrease overtime and nursing burnout. But the British Columbia Nurses' Union (BCNU) disagrees.
"Nurses need to spend time with patients and build a relationship," said BCNU president Debra McPherson, adding that extra time spent helping patients go to the washroom and bathing allows nurses to catch subtle health changes.
"You cannot replace a nurse with two to four years of education with a care aid with four months of education," she said.
The new patient care model was implemented at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital in September and BCNU chair Jo Taylor said it has been a negative experience.
"Nurses were told this would free their time up to do what they are trained to do," Taylor said at the protest. "The CDMR (care delivery model redesign) does not equal quality care. … It's so bad."
Taylor said patients are getting their medications up to eight hours late and that nurses are even more stressed because they cannot provide proper individual care to their patients. She's calling for the provincial government to conduct an assessment on this new patient care model before its rolled out at regional hospitals.
Island Health spokeswoman Sarah Plank said the change is being implemented to combat increasing costs and the shortage of nurses. She added no nursing jobs will be lost due to the implementation.
"We spend a significant amount of money on overtime and we spend a significant amount of money on sick time," Plank said. "Staff are feeling pressured and they are burning out. We also have a looming wave of retirements coming."
According to Island Health, between August 2012 to August 2013, nurses island-wide worked 268,136 overtime hours, costing $17.6 million. Sick time totaled 511,700 hours, costing $14.37 million.
Registered nurses earn between $31.71 to $41.63 per hour and licensed practical nurses earn between $24.74 and $27.32 per hour. Health care assistants earn $22.60 per hour.
Planks said Island Health is moving to a "team-based" model where nurses work with care aides in small teams, responsible for a number of patients, allowing nurses to focus on the more complex aspect of care. She said the amount of employed care aides will almost triple, allowing more interaction with patients.
"Change is hard and we understand that," Plank said. "There is a period of learning with a transition. We are providing extra support on site for the staff."