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Report shows no progress on Quebec emergency room waits

Paramedics transport a patient to the emergency room Wednesday, July 20, 2022 in Montreal. COVID-19 hospitalizations have topped 2,000 in Quebec as the seventh wave continues. (Ryan Remiorz, The Canadian Press) Paramedics transport a patient to the emergency room Wednesday, July 20, 2022 in Montreal. COVID-19 hospitalizations have topped 2,000 in Quebec as the seventh wave continues. (Ryan Remiorz, The Canadian Press)
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The median waiting time in emergency rooms has remained relatively stable year on year, at 5 hours 13 minutes, according to a report published Monday by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI).

This represents an increase of two minutes compared with last year's figures.

According to MEI economist Emmanuelle B. Faubert, who authored the report, although the situation is stable, this does not mean that it is acceptable.

"With all the money we spend on health care and all the projects we have, we'd like to see an improvement," said Faubert. "And a two-minute increase is not what I call an improvement. Stagnation, in itself, is not a good thing, and it shows that we need to change the way we do things to find better solutions to improve access to healthcare."

Over a five-year period, the median length of stay in emergency rooms in the province increased by 42 minutes.

This figure calculates the time elapsed from the time a patient is registered at the emergency department until they are discharged home or admitted to a hospital in another department.

The report shows that there are major disparities between the regions of Quebec.

The longest median emergency room visits are in the Laurentians (7 hours and 18 minutes), Lanaudière (6 hours and 56 minutes) and Laval (6 hours and 53 minutes) regions.

By contrast, the best-performing regions are Gaspésie (3 hours 12 minutes), Bas-Saint-Laurent (3 hours 17 minutes) and Côte-Nord (3 hours 33 minutes).

The Anna-Laberge Hospital in Montérégie and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal were particularly busy in 2023-2024, with median waiting times of 13 hours and 4 minutes and 10 hours and 27 minutes, respectively.

In other hospitals, the situation is quite different.

In the emergency rooms of the Montmagny, Chauveau, Trois-Pistoles and Notre-Dame-du-Lac hospitals, the median wait is under three hours.

The report also shows that 23.1 per cent of patients on stretchers spent more than 24 hours in emergency in 2023-2024, down 1.2 per cent from last year's figures.

Faubert points out that a number of politicians have promised in the past to deal with long waiting times on stretchers, but that these issues are still with us today, with one in five people spending more than 24 hours on a stretcher in emergency departments.

"It's also a problem of capacity in the hospital system," said Faubert. "Because very often people on stretchers are no longer in a state of emergency. They've been treated and stabilised, but they can't go home. They should be moved to another department, but because of a lack of beds, a lack of capacity, they are taken in and have to stay in emergency for much longer than necessary.

"This shows that there is a problem in emergency departments, but also in the rest of the hospital system."

The economist stressed that solutions implemented in the health-care network must be innovative: "We need to try new approaches rather than just injecting money as we have been doing for decades. We can see that it doesn't work."

She added that to prevent people from going to the ER for lack of options, it is necessary to improve primary care.

According to Faubert, some current initiatives are a step in the right direction, such as the specialist nurse clinics being set up across the province.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on March 18, 2024.

The Canadian Press health content receives funding through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. The Canadian Press is solely responsible for editorial choices. 

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