‘Dramatic impact’: healthcare workers’ strikes force at least 450 surgeries to be cancelled daily

"It's a dramatic impact on the patients," said Dr. Patrick Charlebois, president of the Quebec Association of Surgery, as 80,000 healthcare workers continued to strike on Friday, which cancelled around 450 surgeries daily. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

For the second day in a row, members of the  FIQ union, representing about 80,000 healthcare professionals across Quebec, are on strike.

How does the absence of these nurses, licensed practical nurses, respiratory therapists and clinical perfusionists affect the healthcare network?

“It’s affecting [our patients], yes, but they also understand it’s something we need to do,” said Jessica Pontbriand-Brochet, an oncology nurse at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH).

While nurses were on the picket lines Friday morning outside the JGH, the emergency room there was at 179 per cent capacity – with most Montreal ERs experiencing overcrowding, the Quebec Association of Surgery (AQC) estimates that around 450 surgeries are cancelled in the province for every day there’s been a strike.

“We have to understand, that’s the role of the strike,” said Dr. Patrick Charlebois, president of the AQC, “to cause some disturbances to the organization in order to make their point.”

“It’s a dramatic impact on the patients that are already enormous waitlists than we’re adding on to that,” added Dr. Charlebois. “But while the staff are at work, on duty outside of their striking duties, then they’re committed to patient care and excellent patient care is being provided and they try with us to be as efficient as we can to really minimize the number of cancellations. “

For patients’ rights advocate, Seeta Ramdass, this is affecting her personally.

“I know a number of people, people that I’m very close to as well, whose surgeries have been delayed and right now their deterioration is so rapid that they are, their limitations on what they can do,” she said. “They move from being autonomous individuals that were on a waiting list to being almost disabled at this point with limitations to the tasks that they could do. And if their surgeries aren’t scheduled on time, they may end up with permanent disability.”

Emry Leger, a patient leaving the JGH on Friday morning, said his experience in the hospital was quick and efficient – the strikes not affecting his care.

“But my surgeon told me today that the other surgeon had surgeries scheduled all day today but was only able to do one surgery because of no help from the nurses,” he said.

Essential services have been maintained in health care settings, but it’s possible for care to be slowed down in certain units. Non-urgent scheduled surgeries and medical appointments have been postponed.

“l haven’t seen it in terms of surgeries but at the oncology clinic where we work, our nurses are completely understandable,” said Pontbriand-Brochet. “When we tell them, ‘look I have to go on strike for an hour and seven minutes,’ they understand. Patients are very supporting of us and they have a lot of respect for us.”

“We have to remember we’re caring for people, by people and I say bravo to the remaining healthcare workers,” said Ramdass. “I empathize with them. They’re working with limited resources. They’ve limited colleagues and human resources to pick up the slack, some of them are doing double triple shifts. They’re exhausted.” 

With hospitals already short staffed, adding to that the healthcare workers that need to be home with their children impacted by the teacher strikes, many, like surgeons, are picking up more hours to help the backlog.

(Credit; Alyssia Rubertucci, CityNews image)

“We hope for a negotiated resolution of this conflict so we can have our workers back,” said Dr. Charlebois. “But I hope that the outcome of this strike can lead to better work conditions for everyone in the healthcare system.”

“Hopefully with time, with the strike, with this presence, we’re going to get there,” said nurse Pontbriand-Brochet. “Please have patience with us, we have patience with you.”

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