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Health care staff issues: an election issue in Quebec

18 December 2018
For the last few years, the 75,000 members of the Quebec health care workers’ union, the FIQ, have been campaigning for the government to allow them to provide quality and humane health care. A lot of problems can be avoided by having stable well-staffed work teams.

Safe staffing levels have been successfully introduced elsewhere in the world, notably in California and Australia, benefitting both patients and health care workers. More time spent with patients and quality care provision mean fewer falls, infections and accidents, etc. It has been demonstrated that safe staffing levels save lives.

The FIQ has long helped its members to denounce inadequate working conditions. For example, it has provided training on advocacy, published a “black book” on health care safety and developed an online tool for use in highlighting poor working conditions. In January 2018, a young nurse working in long-term care questioned the health minister on social media.

Visibly distressed, she complained about the excessive number of patients she was expected to care for – 70 patients per night – and the effect this had on her work. This triggered a wave of complaints about working conditions in the health care sector in Quebec. The FIQ seized the opportunity and launched a media offensive to raise awareness among the public and decision-makers about excessive workloads and the impact on health care.

The staffing levels recommended by the FIQ set minimum numbers of health care workers per number of patients with similar health problems. This minimum is then adjusted in accordance with patient needs. Following FIQ’s campaign, there have been no fewer than 13 initiatives to determine and introduce safe staffing levels in medicine, surgery and long-term health care residential centres.

Four other projects will be launched soon (emergency services, home care, a private institution, inhalation treatment). These initiatives have a national and local structure based on local joint committees. They are the first step towards the introduction of safe staffing levels throughout Quebec.

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