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Testing Quebec’s patients: Students should care about the nursing crisis

Commentary/Opinion by

On Jan. 29, Sherbrooke nurse Émilie Ricard posted a photo of herself in tears on her Facebook page, giving a sarcastic thumbs up and smile to the camera. She captioned the photo with a diatribe, mocking Quebec’s Minister of Health Gaétan Barrette’s tweet that his government’s 2015 health care reform was a success. She paints a grim picture of the state of nurses in Quebec; she describes being so overloaded with patients in life-threatening conditions that she has to leave other patients sitting in their soiled diapers until she has a moment of “rest.”

Ricard is not alone. The Quebec government’s disastrous policies have led to a  nursing crisis that has pushed many nurses away from the profession. According to Montreal’s regional school board, CEGEP students’ applications to nursing programs have dropped by 22 per cent since 2014, and nurses in Quebec are emigrating by the hundreds to practice in regions with better working conditions, such as Switzerland, according to the CBC article. With current and future nurses shirking the profession, the shortage of nurses grows, throwing fuel on the fire. Still, the Quebec government has shown little interest in the plight of its nurses. This is a concern, as hospital data analysis shows that quality care from nurses dramatically reduces hospital mortality. If Quebec residents and McGill students want the best treatment possible, they must be invested in the wellbeing of their nurses.

Quebec has a history of mistreating its nurses. A quick browse through StatCan’s 2016 labour surveys shows that Quebec nurses are among the lowest-paid in the country, while its general practitioners (GPs) are among the most wealthy: The typical Canadian nurse needs to work an hour and 22 minutes to make what the average Canadian GP makes in an hour. Meanwhile, Quebecois nurses are required to work for two hours and 33 minutes to make what Quebecois GP’s make.

The nursing crisis doesn’t just cause bureaucratic headaches. It also makes Quebec’s clinics more dangerous.

Their mediocre pay compounds the miserable work conditions in Quebec hospitals. Quebec regularly sets the record for how many of its nurses are pushed to work overtime to deal with labour shortages—the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions says that over 35 per cent of Quebec nurses worked overtime in 2016, compared to the national average overtime rate of 27 per cent. On top of this, they can expect to face ridiculous nurse-to-patient ratios. In Quebec hospitals, these ratios can be as high as one nurse per 16 patients. The British Columbian Nurses’ Union recommends that this ratio be—at most—one nurse to five patients, and such ratios are legally protected in other jurisdictions, including California.

These statistics should be concerning to anyone who uses the Quebec health care system, which includes students who rely on the McGill clinic. Nurses regularly work for more than 16 hours in one shift—a fact that 94 per cent of patients are not comfortable with, according to a 2017 survey by the Fédération Interprofessionnelle de la Santé (FIQ). The nursing crisis doesn’t just cause bureaucratic headaches. It also makes Quebec’s clinics more dangerous. Over 1,326 incidents and accidents happen in healthcare settings across Quebec every day, and a 2017 study done by nurse-researchers in the UK shows that hospitals with high nurse-to-patient ratios have been associated with dramatically higher mortality rates after operations.

The nursing crisis has come to a head, yet Dr. Barrette’s ministry seems totally apathetic to these statistics; he even accused the FIQ of using “negative” and counterproductive terms to aggravate the crisis. Given his government’s attitude, it’s no wonder that CEGEP students don’t want to go into nursing. If Barrette will not listen to his own healthcare professionals, then it falls on his electorate—regular Quebecers that expect and deserve the best in healthcare—to call him out for his apathy. The FIQ provides an infographic with statistics and ways that constituents can voice their concerns to the government. They can educate themselves on why Barrette and his government have failed nurses, and they can voice their concerns directly to him. He is, after all, a very active Twitter user.

If students don’t start caring about nurses, they can only expect longer wait times in hospitals that are steadily becoming less effective and more dangerous. Nurses are the backbone of Quebec’s health care system, and any student, regardless of their residency status, relies on this system for their own health and wellness.

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