IV insertion in people with hard-to-locate veins is a special skill that has been performed by IV nurse teams at large hospitals.

Fraser Health scraps IV nurses at big hospitals

Doubts linger as region opts to train regular nurses for tricky needle insertions

Fraser Health is eliminating specialized nurses who perform challenging intravenous needle insertions at the region’s largest hospitals.

Surrey Memorial, Royal Columbian and Burnaby hospitals are the only ones in the region with IV nurse teams, but they’ll be disbanded in September in a move that will save $600,000 a year.

Fraser Health officials say regular floor nurses will be trained to take over all injections.

But some patients whose veins are difficult to locate fear the change will bring them much more pain through excessive needle pokes if regular nurses prove less skilled than the teams.

“When I heard about this I thought ‘Oh my God what am I going to do?'” said North Delta cancer survivor Barbara Smith, whose veins are scarred from chemotherapy and has preferred insertions by IV nurses who usually find the vein on the first try.

Smith said she’s now somewhat reassured and hopeful the promise of broad training will mean all nurses end up more skilled in IV insertions.

“A lot of people have a difficult IV start,” she said. “I’m skeptical just because there is a certain touch to this. There is an art to it.”

Fraser Health spokesman Roy Thorpe-Dorward said the IV nurse teams at the three hospitals were overloaded by demand, leading to long waits for patients to get insertions.

The region would have had to invest more money in bigger teams in order to meet the demand and reduce waits, he said, adding the decision was instead to provide the specialized IV training to many registered nurses and harmonize with the method at smaller hospitals.

“We’ll be investing in training for quite a significant number of nurses – several hundred,” said Thorpe-Dorward, adding all nurses won’t be trained but enough to achieve a critical mass.

Ten specialized IV nursing positions will be lost – five at Royal Columbian, four at Surrey Memorial and one at Burnaby – although it’s expected those nurses will bump into other positions based on seniority.

B.C. Nurses Union vice-president Janice Buchanan said summer is a difficult time to launch a training program and doubted enough nurses would be ready by September because many are on summer vacation.

She noted the change means a net cut in nurses.

“It does not make sense when you’ve got a workload issue where the volume is so high to eliminate the teams and download the work to the floor nurses,” Buchanan said. “I fail to see how they think this is in any way a solution.”

Other big hospitals in the Vancouver Coastal region and Greater Victoria are keeping their IV nurse teams, she added.

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