With the health-care system still overloaded and often flirting with service disruptions, the approach of the summer holidays remains a critical period.

The province's largest federation of nurses unions, the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec (FIQ), has demanded a clear message from the health minister, who has stated that he will not make "any compromises" on staff's well-deserved holidays.

The FIQ called on Health Minister Christian Dubé to dispel the concerns of care professionals on Wednesday morning. The union criticized the minister's "radio silence" when it was already past mid-May.

FIQ President Julie Bouchard said that her members are worried about the possibility of having their holidays cancelled when they have been confirmed since last month. They also fear an increase in mandatory overtime or that their requests for time off other than holiday will be denied.

According to the FIQ, the health institutions have still not communicated a game plan for the summer season and there are fears of "disaster" if the network chooses to improvise.

"We know very well that there are not enough care professionals to provide all the care in all the sectors and services in the health network," said Bouchard, adding that this reality leads to a decline in moral among staff.

In a written statement sent to The Canadian Press, the minister's office assured that "it is really a priority that our workers have their holidays. We will not compromise on this."

In addition, Bouchard has asked that "coercive measures against the staff" be ended in favour of incentive measures. She also asked that "dialogue be opened with the local unions" and, finally, that "predictability of schedules" be offered to care personnel.

Dubé's office responded that he has always favoured collaboration over confrontation. As far as the predictability of schedules is concerned, it is up to the CEOs of the institutions who must juggle with the organization of work and the responsibility to "ensure the stability of the care offered this summer."

The minister acknowledged that it is by working "in collaboration with the union" that the best solutions will be found.

Last summer, no restrictions were imposed on nurses during the holiday period despite high occupancy rates in Quebec hospitals.

In the statement provided by the minister's office, it is, however, reminded that it is necessary to be realistic and that manpower challenges are daily in the network.

"As we know, the summer period brings additional challenges each year because we want to continue to offer services while giving all our staff a well-deserved holiday," he said.

Addressing the population, the minister also invited people to use all available options before going to the emergency room this summer. They are asked to contact 811, the pediatric line or the First Line Access Desk first.

"This will take pressure off our hospitals and, therefore, off our staff," he said.


According to Bouchard, although summer comes around every year and the situation is always difficult, the network does not learn and seems to be caught off guard every time.

She adds that the situation is getting worse every year.

"The shortage of care professionals is still increasing. We have even more patients on the floors to care for, and the rate of absenteeism is very high,'' the FIQ president said.

According to the echoes heard from its members in the field, the summer schedules have still not been drawn up, despite the confirmation of the holidays settled since April. Some institutions have also planned temporary closures of services and bed closures. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on May 17, 2023.