SickKids seeing spike in ER patient volumes, with some waiting up to 12 hours

Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children is urging families to consider other options before coming in to the emergency department (ED) after more than 300 patients showed up over a 24-hour period in recent days.

SickKids, in a statement provided to CP24, said typically in October it plans for about 220 to 230 patients at its ED in one day.

“At SickKids, volumes in our Emergency Department remain unseasonably high and are increasing as we move into the viral illness season. We are seeing more non-COVID viral burden in the community,” SickKids said, noting the average time to see a physician in the ED has tripled since October 2019.

Due to the high volume as of late, the average time to see a doctor could be as long as 12 hours, the hospital said, as the sickest patients are prioritized.

The hospital went on to say that it also continues to “experience the same staffing challenges as seen in September and early October.”

In an effort to get a handle on the situation, the Hospital for Sick Children is encouraging families to make use of its Virtual Urgent Care (VUC) Program. People with sick children are being asked to access the VUC symptom check, which can help them determine the best place to obtain care.

The program, which according to SickKids is being used roughly 90 times a day this month compared to 30 times a day in April 2021, also offers virtual healthcare visits. Presently, 20 to 30 patients are being seen online each day.

Alternatively, families are being advised to contact their primary care provider or visit the ‘About Sick Kids’ web site for resources and information so they can determine the best course of action before they come into the ED.

Over in Hamilton, McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) said it is also seeing an “unusually high seasonal surge in viral illnesses” in its emergency department leading them to also have concerns about hospital capacity both now and in the coming months.

“Like our adult sites and other pediatric hospitals in Canada, MCH is experiencing staffing and capacity pressures leading to longer wait times and delays to care for our patients/families,” the hospital said in a statement to CP24.

“Thanks to our staff and physicians, we have been able (to) accommodate more patients, but are concerned that the additional hours and effort provided by our teams will not be sustainable if we see a major spike in illness.”

Like SickKids, MCH is encouraging people to explore their healthcare options before going to emergency.

“Patients who seek care in our EDs will be triaged and prioritized based on the severity of their conditions,” MCH said, noting anyone experiencing a health emergency should always call 911.

“Children’s hospitals across Ontario are working together and alongside government to ensure safe and timely access to care for all children and youth. We appreciate the patience and understanding of families and the community during this challenging time.”

MCH said it has frequently been at more than 100 per cent capacity over the last year, which means some patients who needed to be admitted have had to wait longer in the ED for a bed.

MCH is encouraging everyone, including kids, to get the flu shot and stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.

Further, the hospital is urging anyone with flu or COVID symptoms to stay home, regardless of rapid test results, to “reduce spread of viruses.”

Earlier today, The Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario held a briefing about the surge of patients it has been seeing with respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV for short.

Children who are contracting this illness, which can result in infections of the lungs and respiratory tract, were previously shielded by COVID-19 health restrictions and are now exposed to it for the first time, the hospital said.

Currently, there are less than 10 patients with RSV at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

Data was not immediately available for the number of children infected with this common respiratory virus admitted to SickKids.

With files from The Canadian Press.

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