QUEBEC CITY -- Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube is promising a plan with bold and original ideas to try to attract thousands of nurses back to the public health network and prevent a breakdown of services.

On Friday, during a scrum with journalists in Lévis, Minister Dube reaffirmed his commitment to doing everything possible to offer nurses a more attractive work environment, different from what they’ve known until now, to convince them to return to the public system.

For years, nurses have complained about the widespread practice of demanding mandatory overtime, which regularly forces them to work exhausting double shifts.

The magnitude of the current crisis, with a shortage of over 4,000 nurses keeping the network from functioning normally, is now pushing the Legault government to pay closer attention to their grievances.

Minister Dube promised to announce new incentives next week, both financial and professional, that he believes will bring back nurses who have opted for early retirement in recent years or who have chosen to practice in the private sector.

He intends to be bold in the way he goes about it, he said.

“You'll see," said the minister.

"We're going to make announcements that might have surprised us a few months or a few years ago, but which will be prompted by the fact that we've looked at new ways of doing things with the pandemic."

While he waits for nurses' reaction to these soon-to-be-announced short-term incentives, Dube is also planning to implement a more long-term, global reorganization, he said, with "much more structural proposals on the table."

The day before, the minister had pledged to prevent any service disruptions in the health network, despite the significant shortage of personnel.

He's also contending with the likelihood the problem will worsen as of October 15, the date by which all health-care staff in Quebec will have to be double vaccinated against COVID-19 to stay on the job.

Those who don’t comply will be suspended without pay for an indefinite period. It’s a scenario that suggests the situation will become even more difficult to manage, as there are an estimated 20,000 unvaccinated employees in the network, at least half of whom provide direct patient care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Sept. 17, 2021.