Quebec's 'winter clinics' aren't really helping alleviate ER crisis: expert

Doctors

Quebec's so-called 'winter clinics' were supposed to help ease the overcrowding in the province's hospital emergency rooms.

But as the flu season in Montreal hits its peak, there appears to be very little evidence that they're doing what they were supposed to do.

The 'winter clinics' are essentially existing clinics with more staff and longer hours, especially during evenings and on weekends. Health minister Danielle McCann declared the clinics a 'success' at the end of last winter — their first season of operation. Just a couple of weeks ago, however, McCann admitted they weren't doing the job, owing to the overwhelming number of flu cases — the condition which the clinics were designed to deal with.

CJAD 800 news also found the clinics difficult to access. In some cases, if you don't arrive early enough in the morning at one of the clinics, you won't be seen for the rest of the day.

Dr. Damien Contandriopoulos is a former Montrealer who has studied Quebec's health care network for years. Now working out of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, he tells CJAD 800's Elias Makos that several things about the province's health network are contributing to the problem.

"Quebec has been doing a bunch of things wrong for a long time," he says. "and it's the sum of all this that's created the present situation."

Despite all the talk from successive Quebec governments about making the system better, the province appears unable or unwilling to fix the main issues — chronic shortages of family doctors and emergency room nurses. Dr. Contandriopoulos says when the government created family doctor groups, for instance, many walk-in clinics wound up closing, putting further strain on ERs, and the 'winter clinics'.

"What they did, is they also closed down a lot of walk-in clinics," he says. "So, what used to be clinics that were open to anyone, turned out to be only accessible only to those who have a family doctor on place."

Dr. Contandriopoulos also says telling people to avoid ERs if they're sick, isn't going to work, either — that the health care network's number one priority should be to meet the needs of the people.

"It's all good to say, patients, don't go to the emergency room, but if there's no alternative, there's no alternative. There's that logic in Quebec that the problem in emergency rooms is that people's behavior is not the good [behavior], so people go there for no good reason. I'm not buying that argument. In the end, it's the system's responsibility to make sure that there is something available in a timely manner for all citizens."