The Quebec Nurses Federation has been sounding the alarm for months about the need to adopt new measures to help ease the overcrowding in hospital emergency rooms (ERs).
Now, the province’s new health minister, Danielle McCann, has confirmed that her ministry is working on the final details before making it official and opening so-called “winter clinics” starting next week. A spokesperson for the ministry said the goal is get as many clinics up and running by mid-January until the end of March.
The new winter clinics will operate within existing GMF clinics (groupe de médecine familiale), also known as super-clinics, by extending operating hours and increasing patient capacity on evenings and weekends. They will offer non-urgent care in an attempt to free up overcrowding in ERs.
“Some South Shore hospital ERs are operating at 250 per cent,” said the health minister’s press attaché, Alexandre Lahaie. “We took measures before the holidays, but the flu has come back with a vengeance.”
But those measures should have been put in place much earlier, according to the Quebec Nurses Federation, considering medical specialists had been warning about the early start to the flu season months ago.
“It’s late because we knew the flu would hit sooner this year and there was nothing planned by the government,” said the federation’s vice-president, Denise Joseph. “It’s late but it’s going to help.”
According to the ministry, 25 GMF clinics on the island of Montreal have already offered to collaborate, but Lahaie insists the regions with the biggest needs will be prioritized such as the south shore of Montreal, Laval, the Laurentians and the Lanaudière.
The ministry claims there will be no extra cost for doctors, since the amounts were already budgeted for, but that the biggest expense will likely be for extra nursing staff in the winter clinics.
He says the government would have had to start planning in September in order to have the winter clinics up and running by December.
“We hope that this government will learn,” said Joseph. “Every year around the same time or so there’s always the flu, there’s always something going around, and it’s always at Christmas that it starts.”