A petition by doctors against pay increases, nurses reporting themselves for poor standards of care, pilot projects to determine proper staffing ratios, and a drop in the number of students applying for nursing programs, have all followed in the wake of the stir caused by the overworked Quebec nurse’s cry for help on Facebook in January this year.
After another exhausting night shift on January 29, Émilie Ricard described the reality of the working conditions for Quebec nurses on her facebook wall. Within days the post was shared more than 55,000 times. This led to large-scale mobilization by nurses, the public as well as opposition parties in the government in protest against nurse shortages and long hours of compulsory overtime. By February 6, after first blaming nurses themselves for the situation, Health Minister Gaetan Barrette met with the President of the Federation of Nurses in Quebec (FIQ) and by the end of the meeting had undertaken to fast-track solutions to the problems.
Meanwhile, in February, the government struck a deal with the unions representing doctors for an increase in their already high salaries. This prompted a group called Médecins Québécois Pour le Régime (MQRP) to start a petition on February 25 which has garnered over 900 signatures. In the petition, the group opposes the increase, stating that they felt they could not accept the higher pay in the light of the difficult working conditions for nurses and others health workers, as well as their patients’ lack of access to services because of the cost-saving cuts over the past four years. “The only thing that seems to be immune to the [health-care system] cuts is our salaries,” the organizer stated.
“the group opposes the increase, stating that they felt they could not accept the higher pay in the light of the difficult working conditions for nurses and others health workers”
After a follow-up meeting with the FIQ after two weeks it was announced that the government would launch several pilot projects in hospitals and long-term facilities to determine staff to patient ratios. Union officials were not very optimistic about any major progress after another meeting on March 9 with Barette – the first in four years to discuss health reforms. “For four years, we’ve put a fire under Quebec and with what’s happening here with Barrette, it’s like he’s taken a garden hose on top of the building of the ministry in Quebec and he’s spraying on the fire,” said union president Jeff Begley. “Great, we’ll take a little bit of water that’s going to help our members, but it’s far from enough.”
Another union for nurses, the Quebec Order of Nurses which represents 75,000 healthcare workers, reported late in February that nurses were calling in large numbers to report themselves for not being able to meet their professional obligations and standards of care. Working conditions, and thereby the quality of care for patients, needed to be improved. “(Nurses) are caught between a rock and a hard place,” said Lucie Tremblay, the president of the Order. “They are torn between their priorities and not being able to meet professional standards.” This order was due to meet with Barette early in March.
Quebec has also seen a significant decline in the number of students applying to nursing programs. By the deadline on March 1, there had been a 22% decrease in the number of applications compared to 2014. The decline could be explained by a drop in the general student population alone and it is strongly suggested that the publicity around the difficulties experienced by nurses has contributed to this drop in numbers.