Quebec is facing an urgent lack of nurses across the province. The Legault government said it was expecting nurses to come back from vacation this week. Instead, many of them decided to stay home permanently.
Health Minister Christian Dubé was not worried last week during the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) caucus in Quebec City that 4,000 nurses were missing from the public health network.
He told reporters, “We have given those nurses summer holidays and most of them will come back around Sept. 15.”
On Sept. 15, Premier François Legault admitted the problem is critical.
“It’s like the chicken and the egg. Because we’re missing some nurses, the remaining ones have to work harder,” Legault explained.
Nurses complain of forced overtime. They say the problem is not just a result of COVID-19.
“It’s been something that even before the pandemic hit, that we’ve been discussing we had to better our working conditions. And COVID was just the last drop in the pot, as we say,” said Christine Hoare with the nurses’ union, the Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ).
Opposition parties were outraged that the government appears to have not realized the extent of the problem.
“At the beginning of summer, we saw that there were issues in a number of emergency rooms and we said that they were issues,” said the Liberal leader, Dominique Anglade.
“This should not come as a surprise. It’s not coming as a surprise to anybody in the network, other than Mr. Dubé.”
“Our whole system is … crumbling. It’s falling apart right before our eyes,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesperson for Quebec Solidaire.
The premier said after long negotiations with the unions, he thought new premiums and other benefits would be enough to retain nurses.
“We thought, and the unions thought, that the new collective agreements would solve a good part of the problem,” he said.
The government is now considering bonuses or raises to entice nurses who have left the public system to come back.
However, the Quebec Order of Nurses said there are more nurses working in Quebec now than there ever were.
“Not all health establishments are affected the same way (by employee turnover or lack of staff),” said Luc Mathieu, the order’s president.
He said it’s not just a question of salaries, it’s also about good management.