By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) – Health authorities across Canada have reduced the hours of operation of hospital emergency departments and urgent care clinics in recent weeks, a move that in some cases may be extend until the summer, due to an increase in the number of patients and staff shortages.
The situation, clinicians say, is linked to a resurgence of viral infections such as COVID-19 in adults and children and a surge in others to seek care delayed by the pandemic and exacerbated by the high number of sick or burnt healthcare workers. out.
The pressure has led to scenes of clogged hospital hallways and overflowing waiting rooms, hours of waiting for hospital care and occupancy rates of over 100% in children’s hospitals. It has also rekindled debate about systemic problems in the government-funded health care system.
Perth and Smiths Falls District Hospital in eastern Ontario on Thursday announced that its Perth emergency department will be closed from Saturday to Thursday due to an outbreak of COVID-19 affecting its personal.
“It feels like the four horsemen of the apocalypse are crashing down on us all at once in healthcare,” said Alan Drummond, a family doctor and emergency physician based in the city, which is home to around 6,000 people.
Drummond, who spoke to Reuters before the announcement of the closure, sees patients waiting 8 p.m. to be admitted, a situation that can lead to a deterioration in their condition or even medical errors. He attributes the situation to years of underfunding of hospital beds and community care.
Although hospitals in small towns across Canada sometimes reduce their hours of operation, it is rarer for regional health centers to do so.
The Ontario Ministry of Health would not say how many hospitals in the province, Canada’s most populous, are affected by partial or temporary closures, but said it has taken steps to address the problem, including retaining nurses and other health care workers.
“Sometimes hospitals have to make the difficult decision to temporarily close their emergency departments so that operations can continue in the rest of the hospital,” a ministry spokesperson said.
Hospitals in Quebec, the country’s second-largest province, New Brunswick and Manitoba have also partially closed services or temporarily reduced hours for a few weeks to several months, according to hospital statements.
In Kingston, Ont., the Hotel Dieu Hospital Urgent Care Clinic has reduced hours over the Canada Day long weekend. A spokesperson for the Kingston Health Science Center described the move, which began on Friday, as a planned one-time reduction, but added that it was expected that “staffing shortages and the current increase in patient numbers will continue all summer long.”
Children have been hit hard by the health care crisis as young people never exposed to a number of viruses succumbed to the disease in the spring as many people gave up face masks used to prevent spread of COVID-19.
The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, the nation’s capital, operated at 110% to 120% capacity for weeks in May and early June. Occupancy hit a record high for the month of May, a spokesperson said.
Low staffing and rising patient numbers are “kind of like this perfect storm,” said Katharine Smart, a pediatrician and president of the Canadian Medical Association.
Canada has the fourth lowest number of funded acute care beds per capita among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, according to the OECD https://www.oecd.org/coronavirus/en/data- insights/hospital-beds -acute-care, and the Commonwealth Fund ranked https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2021/aug/mirror-mirror-2021-reflecting-poorly#rank the system of second-to-last among 11 wealthy countries.
Some blame the underfunding of the health care system since the 1990s, when Canada’s federal government cut spending to get the country’s deficit under control.
Others, like the right-wing Fraser Institute https://www.fraserinstitute.org/studies/understanding-universal-health-care-reform-options-cost-sharing-for-patients, argue that the government-funded system himself is the root cause of the problems, suggesting moving to a paid private model.
Canada may have little time to waste.
Rami Rahal, vice-president of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, said there is a risk that cancer-related illness and death will worsen in the country due to long periods when screening has been skipped or delayed. and deferred processing.
“We cannot laud our way out of this crisis,” he said. “We need to find innovative ways to deliver care.”
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Paul Simao)