In a bid to fix overcrowding in emergency rooms, Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette wants to limit patient waiting times on stretchers and give hospital administrators the power to discipline doctors and staff that don't follow suit.

Earlier this week, Barrette proposed amendments to Bill 130, the act that oversees the management of healthcare institutions. The changes would cap, at 24 hours, the maximum time patients are forced to wait on stretchers in ERs before they are released or transferred elsewhere.

The amendment also includes potential disciplinary actions against hospital staff who don't follow the 24-hour rule.

"So doctors are sent the message 'Look, if you don't cooperate, there could be consequences' in terms of disciplinary actions for instance," said Barrette.

He added a message to hospital administrators: "Now you have the leverage."

More improvement needed

In Quebec, the current average waiting time before a patient on a stretcher in the ER gets transferred to a hospital room is 13.6 hours. 

"There's a big difference," Barrette said, noting the average time in 2016 was 15.6 hours.

While Barrette said that's the lowest waiting time he has seen in nearly a decade, there is still room for improvement.

The medical community has concluded the reasonable average waiting time shouldn't be more than 12 hours, according to Barrette.

He said that while Quebec's healthcare system is close to reaching that goal, that there are still too many patients spending a day or more on stretchers in the ER.

Chantal Marchand, the president of the association that represents health and social service centre managers, said the threat of disciplinary action against her members will only contribute to a climate of fear.

She said that the proposed amendment means that hospital administrators must "make cuts in their services and, on the other hand, reduce wait times."

With files from Peter Tardif, Radio-Canada and la Presse Canadienne