Nurses meet with politicians in the community, and at work

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For the last 14 years, registered nurses (RN) have visited Queen’s Park to meet one-on-one with MPPs and cabinet ministers. Dubbed Queen’s Park Day (QP Day), this tradition, hosted by the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), allows RNs, nurse practitioners (NP), and nursing students to discuss and debate local and provincial health issues. Through patient anecdotes and well-informed discussions of key policy recommendations put forward by RNAO, nurses can press for meaningful change that addresses what we do right, and the issues we need to fix in our health system.

Late in 2012, Ontario’s former Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature, meaning many MPPs would not be in their Queen’s Park offices at the time QP Day would normally take place. Undeterred, RNAO members agreed to take the association’s signature political advocacy event “on the road.” They began planning last fall to meet in their own communities with their MPPs, an initiative referred to as Queen’s Park on the Road (QPOR).

Over 80 MPPs – including Conservative leader Tim Hudak and NDP head Andrea Horwath – signed on to participate in meetings stretching from Elliot Lake to Temiskaming Shores to Cornwall to Windsor. To provide a starting point for discussion, and fuel for QPOR conversations, nurses turned to RNAO’s platform of health recommendations laid out in a document called Why Your Health Matters. With the release of this platform, RNAO is challenging all political parties to consider and adopt the recommendations that nurses feel will build an even stronger Ontario.

Released in January, the platform is well timed. The Liberal party may have found a new leader in Kathleen Wynne in January, but its minority government status means it requires the support of either opposition party to pass legislation. Without that support, Ontario could be plunged into an election at any time. RNAO wanted to position itself to help shape political dialogue at a time when the province has a new premier, and MPPs may be preparing to campaign. The association guided members to structure their conversations with their political representatives around the pillars of Why Your Health Matters: poverty, environment, nursing care, Medicare and funding.

Specific targets have been identified within each of these pillars. When it comes to reducing poverty, Ontario needs to increase the minimum wage, improve access to affordable housing, and transform the social assistance system to reflect the cost of living. In committing to become clean and green, the provincial government must immediately close all remaining coal plants, and make sure people know about the existence of toxics in their homes, workplaces and consumer products. Nurses are also asking the government to impose green taxes to help pay for the damage polluters cause.

Strengthening access to nursing care means hiring 9,000 additional RNs by 2015, ensuring 70 per cent of all nurses work full-time so patients have continuity in their care and care provider, and securing fair wages for nurses working in all sectors. The government must maximize and expand the role of RNs to deliver broader care (such as prescribing and ordering lab tests), guarantee all existing nurse practitioner-led clinics are funded to operate to full capacity, and open NP-led clinics in areas where patient need exists. More focus is also needed to ensure patients are active partners in their health at their first point of contact with the system.

On Medicare, the government must commit to and expand our publicly funded, not-for-profit health system in areas such as home care, reject efforts to commercialize or privatize health-care delivery, including immediately stopping medical tourism in our hospitals, and focus more on evidence-based practice to ensure Ontario is a healthier place to live and work.

Nurses know that Ontario’s economy is still recovering, and that it’s affected by global events. This is why RNAO urges political leaders to work on restoring Ontario’s fiscal capacity by making sure people pay their fair share in taxes. The association argues tax cuts for the wealthy and spending cuts for social programs hurt the most vulnerable and our economy.

Hundreds of nurses across the province may have already met with their MPPs locally to discuss action needed on the health policy front, but hundreds more will be taking those efforts one step further in May, when they invite their elected representatives to mark Nursing Week by participating in RNAO’s annual Take Your MPP to Work events. Through this initiative, now in its 13th year, MPPs can visit with nurses where they work, and get a small glimpse of life as an RN or NP. To find out more, about Take Your MPP to Work, visit nursingweek.RNAO.ca.