The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS)is outlining serious concerns to government on the need for action to address inadequacies across Canada’s medical laboratory network. While many of these challenges were significant issues before the pandemic, COVID-19 has exacerbated the human resources shortages and highlighted the gaps in infrastructure.
“As many Canadians have learned for the first time during COVID-19, Medical Laboratory Technologists and Assistants (MLTs and MLAs) perform a key role in our health care system that directly support patients and decisions related to their care,” said Joël Rivero, President of the CSMLS Board of Directors. “As demands increase on laboratory testing, and now with the addition of COVID-19, medical laboratory professionals and their labs are facing unprecedented challenges across many parts of Canada.”
Prior to COVID-19, Canada’s lab professionals were processing over 440 million tests a year in Canada. The addition of hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 tests daily as well as the growing number of other tests coupled with an aging population only continue to increase the annual demands on the laboratory system.
“Over the coming years, about half of all MLTs in Canada will be eligible to retire, and there is no coordinated plan in place by Federal and Provincial governments to address this issue,” explains Christine Nielsen, CEO of the CSMLS. “Make no mistake; we are seeing these shortages in many regions now, and this will only become more problematic with time. We need to increase clinical placements and domestic training programs immediately, and work to create long-term programs for international, foreign-trained MLTs to join our workforce.”
Rural and remote Canada is feeling the impacts of these shortages already more acutely than elsewhere, and many communities have posted jobs that remain unfilled for long periods of time. Incentives to attract new graduates to these regions (as is offered in other medical professions) could be a difference-maker.
“It’s also clear that laboratory infrastructure needs more than a patchwork fix to address ongoing issues. Outdated equipment and confined working conditions are lowering the efficiency of labs and potentially delaying the return of test results,” concluded Nielsen. “A dedicated laboratory infrastructure upgrade program would allow labs and lab professionals to overhaul current conditions.”