The Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians says it is “concerned” by comments made just before Christmas by Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé, who suggested that unnecessary visits to emergency rooms contributed significantly to their overcrowding.
However, people should not hesitate to go to the emergency room if they believe they need emergency health care, said a spokesperson for the association on Wednesday in an interview with The Canadian Press.
On December 19, Minister Dubé told journalists in Montreal that there was “a large proportion of people who consult the emergency room who do not have an urgent problem — I am not saying that they are not worried, but who do not have an urgent problem — and who should not go to the emergency room.
Minister Dubé invited these people to instead use other available options, such as family medicine clinics or specialized nurse practitioners, but also pharmacists who can provide professional advice.
The minister made this statement a few days after receiving a letter from the Regroupement des chefs d’urgence du Québec, which deplored a situation which “has deteriorated dramatically” and which has become “out of control”. The Regroupement denounced the “inertia” of the government, while “the crisis is only getting worse”.
On December 30, the Ministry of Health issued a press release encouraging Quebecers to “use options other than emergency to meet non-urgent health needs.”
The number of patients in emergency departments is still high during the height of respiratory infection season, but the congestion is mainly due to systemic problems that have been reported for years, Dr. Michael Herman, an emergency physician at Queensway Hospital, said Wednesday. Carleton of Ottawa, who spoke on behalf of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians.
“The problems associated with congestion are actually more related to the flow in the hospital than to the number of patients who present to the emergency room,” argued Dr. Herman. When patients admitted to the hospital wait 24, 48, sometimes 72 hours to get a bed on the floors, it takes up space in the emergency room that cannot be used to see the next patient. »
If people have “quick access” to a family doctor, that can be a good option for those who don’t have serious symptoms, the emergency doctor admitted. But they should not hesitate to go to the emergency room “if they fear something more serious,” he stressed. “It is up to the patient to determine their [propre] emergency. »
However, government messages asking people not to go to the emergency room unless it is “necessary” could dissuade them from accessing the care they need, lamented Dr. Herman. “It’s the patient who has concerns about their symptoms, concerns about their well-being, so they come to the emergency room to be evaluated. It’s our job, it’s our role. »
At Minister Dubé’s office on Thursday, we made it clear that “all patients who have urgent needs must go to the emergency room.” But we also repeat that “there is still too large a proportion of patients who go to emergency rooms with viruses who can be treated directly at home or by consulting another health professional”.
“It is for this reason that we have put in place other options, such as winter clinics, 811, the pediatric line and the First Line Access Desk,” the office wrote in an email. Minister Dubé. “It is also possible to consult a self-care tool on the Web or see your pharmacist. »
“In addition, we are putting in place a central measure to free up more than 500 additional accommodation places over the coming weeks, so that patients, often seniors, who find themselves in hospital and who no longer need to be there, can be in a living environment adapted to their needs,” we added.
Last Friday, high traffic forced the Vitalité Health Network in New Brunswick to ask the population to avoid emergency rooms at hospitals in Caraquet and Campbellton, unless they require “urgent and critical care.” “. And again on Wednesday, Réseau Vitalité asked the population of Madawaska to limit visits to the Edmundston Hospital.
Furthermore, the emergency room at Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent was closed at night during the holiday season due to a shortage of nurses.
Emergency physicians met with health ministers from across Canada last fall to discuss the problems that continually plague hospitals and emergency departments.
“The challenges facing Canadian emergency departments, such as overcrowding, long wait times and limited resources, have persisted for far too long,” said Michael Howlett, president of the Canadian Association of Physicians. emergency, in a press release published on October 12.
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