Quebec is set to open up new winter clinics in response to overcrowded emergency rooms.

Certain clinics will extend their opening hours beginning next week, said Health Minister Danielle McCann.

McCann said they see they need to provide the population with better access to first-line services immediately because of a high level of flu activity, gastroenteritis and other viruses circulating.

As is the case every winter, hospital ERs are struggling to handle to overflow.

Here are some of latest occupancy statistics:

  • Royal Victoria Hospital: 188 per cent
  • Lakeshore General Hospital: 171 per cent
  • CHUM: 145 per cent

McCann said she is aware that many people do not have family doctors in parts of the province, including in Montreal, but said she also encourages the public to take these measures before going to the ER:

  • Call Info-Sante at 811
  • Speak to a pharmacist
  • Go to a clinic nearby

This new measure of extending the hours of certain family medicine groups and clinics should help, said McCann, despite the shortage of family doctors at clinics.

“We've had the discussion with Family Doctors Federation, and they assure us there are doctors available next week to give more time, so we have their collaboration. It will be most important in certain areas, where there will be more needs – Saint-Eustache, Suroit, certain parts of Montreal too,” she said.

McCann says 25 clinics have already volunteered their services, however, they won't automatically extend hours at all those clinics.

The government wants first to ensure the so-called winter clinics are in the right, high-need areas of the province before accepting their help.

As such, they may be rolled out gradually over the next few weeks.

As for cost, McCann maintains it will not be prohibitive because they will use the services of auxiliary nurses to work at the clinics -- but she did not provide a dollar figure.

The clinics chosen will maintain extended hours until March.

McCann said she intends to have this kind of system fully operational earlier next year, from the beginning of December.