Man dies after waiting 16 hours in Quebec hospital to see a doctor

The Ministry of Health says it will request a detailed report from the hospital in question. (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)
The Ministry of Health says it will request a detailed report from the hospital in question. (Charles Contant/CBC - image credit)

The case of a patient who died after spending 16 hours in a Quebec hospital's emergency room without being seen by a doctor is prompting physicians to denounce conditions in the province's health system.

The incident was brought to light by Dr. Sébastien Marin, an emergency room physician, who detailed the incident in several Twitter posts Saturday.

According to Marin, the deceased patient — a man over the age of 70 — went to an unnamed hospital, but returned home because no doctors could see him after 16 hours. Marin is not divulging the name of the patient, nor the hospital, citing patient confidentiality.

His condition deteriorated, prompting him to seek medical care again, this time at a different hospital. He chose to go to Barrie Memorial in Ormstown, south of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, where Marin works.

"When I saw him, I immediately thought of a section of the aorta, because it's known for that," said Marin in an interview with Radio-Canada.

The man died about 10 minutes after arriving at Barrie Memorial. Marin said that according to the man's medical file, he had suffered an aneurysm recently.

"This is a case that fell through the cracks of the system," Marin said. "This is a case that was still quite clear, a case that was dangerous."

CBC News has not been able to confirm the name of the first hospital or Dr. Marin's account, however, the province's health ministry has confirmed it is investigating.

"I see patients dying every day. That's life, but he shouldn't have died," he added.

ER overcrowding raises fears of the worst, says doctor

Dr. Gilbert Boucher, president of the Association of Specialists in Emergency Medicine of Quebec (ASMUQ), says overcrowded emergency rooms put the population at risk.

"We are always surprised by this kind of thing," said Boucher, alluding to the death of the patient.

"We still hope that the triage system will ensure that we won't overlook conditions like that one," he said. "Unfortunately, over the last five or six months, many patients have left without having seen a doctor. Our triage nurses are doing a great job, but they too are under pressure."

Boucher is worried not only about the risks of forgetting a patient because their file wasn't evaluated properly, but also about the dangers of having to wait hours in the emergency room for treatment.

"We put caregivers in unbearable situations," he said. "There are no beds. There are no stretchers. The waiting rooms are full. Decisions have to be made after interviews of three to five minutes … This is when it gets incredibly dangerous."

A clear message has been sent to those in charge of the health network and to the government, said Boucher.

"There are risks for the population," he said.

"If this patient had been seen within a reasonable time, we're not saying that he would have survived, but at least he would have had a chance."

CAQ touts its health plan

The Ministry of Health says it will request a detailed report from the first hospital.

In an email, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christian Dubé also praised the Coalition Avenir Québec's plan for the health network.

She says the plan offers several solutions to improve the situation in emergency rooms, in particular with access to front line care, the hiring and development of more health professionals, and adding capacity in other parts of the network, in a bid to alleviate the strain on ERs.

But Marin says he's not getting his hopes up.

"I believe in reform, but it will take a long time," he said. "It has to be done right for it to work."