Emergency room doctors are urging Montrealers to avoid ERs unless absolutely necessary, as a dozen hospitals are reporting being over capacity.

Among the hospitals on the island, 10 are reporting very elevated wait times as of Saturday morning, according to www.indexsante.ca, while another six are elevated and just five are normal. Among the busiest hospitals are the Jewish General, at 130 per cent capacity, the Lakeshore at 119 per cent and the Royal Victoria at 124 per cent.

Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital is at 102 per cent, while Hopital Fleury is operating at 139 per cent. 

Some hospitals in Monteregie - like the Anna Laberge Hospital centre - are tending to nearly double the maximum number of patients the ER can handle. 

One Montreal Children’s Hospital doctor said the Christmas period is a busy one partly due to the passing of viruses like the flu, as well as some clinics and family doctor offices being closed for the holidays.

"It's extremely busy," explained Dr. Raphael Paquin, an emergency physician. "It's the time of year where it's the busiest because we have the usual injuries, and we also have influenza season that has started as the RSV, so the bronchitis virus is also here. 

Paquin says a lot of patients enter the ER with those two viruses, but there isn't much treatment that can be dispensed at the ER - normally, rest and plenty of fluids do the trick.

"There's a big difference between bacterial and viral infections like the flu or bronchitis. They do not require treatment with antibiotics and therefore will get better without any intervention," he added.

Other MUHC physicians, like Dr. Mitch Shulman, say that the influx of patients presenting with flu-like symptoms negatively impact wait times - especially for those on a lower priority in triage.

Midday emergency rooms, like those at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Montreal and Jewish Generals, and the Lakeshore were all overcrowded.

"Most people who don't have a serious underlying health issue can stay at home for a couple of days to take something to bring down their fever, treat their symptoms, and weather it out," Shulman said.

Holiday staffing shortages, as Shulman explains, aren't much of an issue. The overcrowding problem won't be solved by adding more doctors, he says. 

"Hiring more doctors right now isn't the issue," Shulman added. "The issue really is just overwhelming numbers of people and a limited amount of space and time."

He says patients heading to the ER can expect delays well into the New Year. 

Doctors recommend contacting Info-Sante at 811, or visiting a clinic before making the trek to the emergency room.