Longer than normal wait times should be expected at the emergency department at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.
On Tuesday evening, SickKids tweeted its emergency department is experiencing “extremely high patient volumes and much longer than normal wait times for non-emergent issues.”
Dr. Jason Fischer, division head of emergency medicine at SickKids, said an overwhelming number of patients are currently visiting the hospital due to viral season and a lack of primary caregivers.
“We're seeing lots of viruses circulating. Kids are getting coughs, colds and fevers. But the second issue is that there's just a lack of access to care. We're hearing from families that they're having trouble accessing their primary care, their family doctor, their pediatrician, their local urgent cares are busy, their local emergency departments are busy,” Fischer told CP24 Wednesday morning.
He said the hospital has experienced wait times up to 12 hours, which can vary depending on the time of day.
“As everyone knows, patients don't all arrive nicely spaced out throughout the course of the day. And if we have a large volume of patients arrive in the late evening, wait times can be three to four times what we would normally expect,” he said.
In its tweet, the hospital said that it will continue to treat the sickest patients first.
SickKids also advised visitors to come prepared with water bottles, nut-free snacks, phone chargers and entertainment.
Dr. Dina Kulik, pediatrician and founder of Kidcrew Medical, said her clinic has also seen a surge of visitors in the past couple of weeks.
“So tons of pinkeye, tons of viral rashes, runny nose, cough, sore throat, stomach flus. It's really all the viral symptoms you can see, we're seeing in kids right now,” she told CP24.
The influx of patients at SickKids and other medical facilities comes as a recent study that revealed more than 170,000 patients in Ontario lost their family doctors in the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study, led by Unity Health Toronto and non-profit research institute ICES, found the number of family physicians who stopped working doubled between March and September 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019.
“Nearly 1.8 million Ontarians don’t have a regular family physician,” Dr. Tara Kiran, lead author of the study and a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital of Unity Health Toronto, said in a statement. “Our findings suggest things are only going to get worse, which is really concerning because family medicine is the front door to our health system.”
To avoid an unnecessary visit to the emergency department, Kulik recommends that parents monitor their children at home if they have mild symptoms, including a runny nose, mild cough or diarrhea, or visit their doctor's office or walk-in clinic.
“Unless a child is having difficulty breathing, difficulty with keeping anything down in terms of drinking, losing consciousness, unless they're having really significant emergency worthy symptoms, we do want to avoid kids using the emerg unnecessarily,” she said.
Fischer also recommends that parents get their children vaccinated against both the flu and COVID-19 to reduce their chances of illness, and to use online resources to assess their child’s symptoms.
“The next thing is to use the resources that are available online, like ‘AboutKidsHealth’ that's available on our SickKids website. And also our SickKids virtual urgent care platform that allows parents, caregivers, patients to go online and to check and see if their symptoms require an emergency visit or if they can wait until the symptoms subside,” he said.