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Ontario’s Underfunded Hospitals Can’t Handle Growing Backlog of Surgeries, Medical Official Warns

“I can see pain and suffering increasing and I can see increases in mortality," warns top Thunder Bay medical official

Medical officials are warning that hospitals in Ontario hard-hit by COVID-19 currently lack the capacity to handle a growing backlog of surgeries.

According to the doctor heading the COVID-19 response at Thunder Bay’s Regional Health Sciences Centre, a province-wide backlog for non-emergency procedures is growing and will require up to a 20% increase in resources to address it safely.

“I can see wait times increasing,” Dr. Stewart Kennedy, TBRHSC’s Executive VP of Medicine and Academics told PressProgress. “I can see pain and suffering increasing and I can see increases in mortality.”

Dr. Kennedy was recently quoted  in a release from his hospital:

“At this time there’s an over 80,000 backlog of surgeries across the province and that’s growing every day … We have to start doing business differently. In the next several months we’re going to need to work seven days a week and increase our surgical capacity by at least 20 per cent to catch up. Some places in Ontario will have to increase their capacity by up to 40 percent. That will put a strain on resources province-wide.”

“We have an estimation of how many surgeries go on in Ontario on a daily basis. So if none are being performed we just plug in the number and on a weekly basis, we can see that increase,” Dr. Kennedy told PressProgress.

“If you look at the 20%, that requires just opening up on a Saturday, if you go to 40% that’s another two days of capacity, if you add evenings that’s 60%.”

“Each hospital will have its own estimate for how to achieve that backlog,” he added. “My concern here is that it will require extra resources from the ministry of health.”

Ontario has seen its hospital bed capacity fall significantly over the past 30 years, largely owing to underfunding.

Dr. Kennedy added: “If they want to deal with a backlog of 20% volume, they’re going to have to probably put in 25-30% to deal with the overtime it’s going to require, it’s going to be a significant influx of hospital funding they’re going to need to deal with the backlog.”

On May 7, the provincial government announced a plan for the “gradual resumption” of elective procedures but without a date or funding details.

In response to Dr. Kennedy’s comments, an Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson told PressProgress:

“To address backlog, the framework takes a regional approach for managing the resumption of scheduled surgeries and procedures based on local data and will be executed only if certain local conditions are met. What is possible in one region may not at that time be possible in another, therefore one region that may have capacity can potentially care for patients from other regions, if that works for the patients and their families. To conserve capacity for COVID-19 patients, individual hospitals must reserve 15% of acute care capacity and regions must maintain an aggregate 15% of acute care capacity across their region.”


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