Another battle is brewing between Quebec’s health minister and doctors as the province will be short more than a hundred physicians to staff emergency rooms this summer. The health minister is insisting, again, that doctors are not working hard enough while doctors argue that is simply not true.
It begs the question: is the shortage of ER doctors caused by the health minister misdiagnosing the situation? The opposition Parti Quebecois says the Minister Gaetan Barrette‘s prescription to get more family doctors had unintended side effects.
“We used to have a balance — he broke this balance,” said PQ health critic Diane Lamarre.
READ MORE: Not-so-super clinics in Quebec?
Bill 20 required family doctors with special emergency room training to continuing work, at least in part, in family medicine or in the new super-clinics. Lamarre said the policy not only chased doctors out of the province, but created an ER doctor shortage.
The minister denies this. He said the real problem is ER doctors just aren’t working hard enough.
“We negotiate compensation on a full-time equivalent basis. The full-time equivalent basis for ER physicians is 151 shifts,” Minister Barrette explained. He said on average, ER doctors only work 119 shifts a year.
“How does it happen that everywhere in Quebec, all the emergency room physicians decided to do less than they were supposed to do?” Lamarre asked ironically.
Quebec’s ER doctors say the minister’s numbers are wrong. “Montreal is only partially included, so what does that mean? Is my hospital not in there because according to our figures, believe it or not, our physicians work 163 days,” said Dr. Bernard Mathieu, a Montreal ER doctor and president of the ER doctor association, the Association des médecins d’urgence du Québec (AMUQ).
Dr. Mathieu said the system in Quebec is not flexible. Regional health boards have a hiring quota and doctors are expected to work full-time hours. If they don’t, there’s a shortage.
“In the rest of Canada, you have that latitude to hire two part-time positions instead of one full-time position. Here in Quebec, no, it’s not like this,” said Dr. Mathieu.
The minister’s solution is to try and convince doctors to work more. It’s a complicated system — with patients trapped in the middle.