Forget the coffee and doughnut.

Health care was being handed out at a Tim Hortons next to one of British Columbia's busiest emergency wards.

The ER department at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster is the province's main trauma centre and receives most of the province's air-lifted patients.

On Monday and early Tuesday, several trauma emergencies came in by chopper and combined with an influx of flu patients and general emergency traffic to see more than 190 patients swamp the ward, said David Plug from the Fraser Health Authority, which oversees the hospital.

"Due to concerns around congestion, the emergency department and physicians looked at the coffee shop seating area, which is immediately adjacent to the emergency department," Plug said.

For about three and a half hours, six beds, complete with privacy curtains, replaced the tables and chairs at the iconic coffee shop, which was already closed for the night.

Plug said there's a lot of talk about the restaurant being taken over, but that's exactly what the area was supposed to be used for in such a situation.

"It was cleaned before and after and there were no communicable disease concerns."

He said the area was more private for patients than using closets or hallways in the hospital.

A woman whose mother received blood work and a heart monitoring test in the makeshift ER said the Tim Hortons may not have been the most hygienic location.

But Shelley Fisher said hallways or hall closets are also poor alternatives, and overcrowding has forced patients into those areas in the past.

"She got an ambulance ride to Timmy's," she told Vancouver radio station News 1130. "I don't think that's something you can say every day. My God, how low is our health care system going to go?"

But B.C. Health Minister Colin Hansen said the system worked just the way it was supposed to and the restaurant was meant to be used for just such an overflow situation.

"It does happen from time to time that emergency rooms are under tremendous stress because of the number of patients presenting themselves on that day," Hansen said.

He said it doesn't happen as frequently as it did 10 years ago, when he was the Liberal opposition's health critic.

"They had all the ambulances lined up outside waiting to unload passengers," he said. "Today we have protocols in place where the patients are brought inside, they're cared for, they get the attention of medical staff."

The issue gained attention in the House of Commons during question period on Tuesday.

"This government needs to order a double-double on the double and wake up and smell the health care crisis in this country," said New Westminster-Coquitlam-Port Moody MP Fin Donnelly.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said the Conservative government has increased health care by 33 per cent, something the NDP voted against.

Debra McPherson, president of the B.C. Nurses Union, joked that the issue redefined public-private partnerships in health care.

But overcrowding not unusual, she said, forcing hospitals around the province to put patients in hallways and closets.

"This is insane," she said.

"We can't provide privacy and dignity when they're having tests performed in these types of areas. We cannot assure them that emergency equipment is available, such as oxygen and suction. It's appalling care conditions."

McPherson said hospitals are descending to Third World status.

She said it is a deliberate strategy of the government to push for more private participation in health care.

Have your say: Is using a hospital Tim Hortons to treat patients acceptable?