The demands of the COVID-19 pandemic led more nurses, personal support workers and others in the health-care field to work more overtime hours but also miss more days at work compared to pre-pandemic times, a recent report from Statistics Canada has found.
The study, released Thursday, focused on nurses, personal support workers and care aides, and other health-care workers with the exception of physicians, as they are most likely to be self-employed, StatCan said.
The findings confirm what many health-care workers have reported throughout the pandemic, namely increased burnout and having to work longer hours.
The report also comes as job vacancies remain high in the health-care sector, more than doubling to 95,200 in the first quarter of 2023, compared to 43,000 during the same period in 2020, StatCan said.
“With demand exceeding supply, the challenges posed by staff shortages have invariably affected the workload and working conditions of health-care workers,” the report said.
StatCan found in 2020, full-time health-care employees missed 17.6 days of work on average due to an illness or disability, up 3.4 days from 2019, making it the highest level seen since the late 1990s.
This became especially common among workers required to treat patients with known or possible cases of COVID-19, the report says.
Nurses, in particular, drove this increase, missing 19.5 days on average in 2020, up 4.6 days from 2019.
However, personal support workers and care aides reported the most missed days overall at 21.6 in 2020, up 3.4 from 2019.
Although average sick days in 2021 returned to about the same level as 2019, it rose even higher to 18 days on average in 2022, which StatCan ties to the rise in cases of the infectious Omicron variant.
A greater share of health-care workers also reported working more overtime in a given week, rising to 24.8 per cent in 2022 from 22.1 per cent in 2019.
Among nurses, the increase was greater at 31.7 per cent in 2022, an increase of five percentage points.
Of those nurses who worked overtime, the average number of extra hours worked each week rose to 8.6 on average, up 1.9 hours compared to 2019.
For personal support workers and care aids, the proportion of those who worked overtime was 18.2 per cent in 2022, while the number of extra hours worked each week was 10 on average, both described by StatCan as “among the highest ever.”
More workers also reported putting in “long hours,” which StatCan defines as 49 hours per week or more.
Overall, this figure rose to 7.9 per cent in 2022 from 5.9 per cent in 2019. Nurses were most likely to work long hours at 9.5 per cent in 2022, compared to personal support workers and care aides at 7.5 per cent and other health-care workers at 6.9 per cent.
When it came to pay, StatCan said the average wage for full-time nurses in the public sector was $40.19 per hour in 2022, an increase of 17.7 per cent since 2012. Consumer prices, however, rose 24.2 per cent in that time.
Private-sector nurses earned less at $35.09 per hour in 2022, but saw higher wage growth at 25.1 per cent.
For personal support workers in the public sector, hourly wages rose to $24.15 for a 22 per cent increase during that decade-long period, while those in the private sector earned $21.45 per hour in 2022 for an increase of 33.5 per cent.
Along with high reports of stress, 11.2 per cent of permanent health-care workers reported in August 2022 that they planned on leaving their jobs within the year.
Retirement and a heavy workload were cited as the most common reasons for wanting to leave at 24.6 and 20.7 per cent, respectively.
Nurses were more likely to cite being overworked as a reason at 41.6 per cent, compared to personal support workers at 23.5 per cent, other health-care workers at 17.7 per cent and non-health-care workers at 9.7 per cent.
However, StatCan found that the proportion of health-care workers who left their current jobs remained unchanged from before the COVID-19 pandemic at around 1.4 per cent.
StatCan says a number of personal factors can determine whether someone voluntary leaves their job, including tenure and pension, as well as local labour market conditions.