Hospitals in Ontario are required to stop all non-emergent surgeries and non-urgent procedures as soon as possible as people with COVID-19 continue to fill up hospitals and put the healthcare system under stress with the current third wave.
The new directive came from Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, and was given on Tuesday.
As per directive, the decision on postponement of surgeries “should be made using processes that are fair and transparent to all patients.
Earlier this month, Ontario Health instructed hospitals to ramp down on elective surgeries to create more room for hospitals inundated with COVID-19 patients. Ontario additionally issued emergency orders that grant hospitals the authority to transfer patients to another hospital without their consent.
“This directive, in addition to the emergency orders recently issued are being taken in response to escalating case counts,which have led to increasing hospitalization and ICU occupancy rates which are already over the peak of wave two,”
a spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement on Wednesday.
“This decision will be closely monitored on an ongoing basis with the intention of bringing on surgical capacity as soon as safely possible.”
The third wave, which is driven by more transmissible and more deadly coronavirus variants, has strained hospital capacity with record numbers of COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
This past week, a senior Ontario Health official said triage protocols could be enforced if patients in intensive care exceed 900. As of Wednesday, there are 790 patients in the ICU.
As per Public Health Ontario, as of April 15, 90% of samples screened came back positive for one of the three variants.
“Clinicians are in the best position to determine what are urgent and emergent surgeries and procedures in their specific health practice and should rely on evidence and guidance where available,” the directive reads.
It has laid out four principles that can guide hospitals in deciding which surgeries should be prioritized. The order does not apply to pediatric specialty hospitals.
“This is completely unconscionable. But there’s nothing we can do about it when there is only so much human resource to go around to care for patients in a safe manner. And this is a tragedy that should never have happened if we prepare for it properly,” infectious diseases specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said.
He added that procedures such as cancer surgeries and organ transplants could be impacted by the ramp down.
“And if we want to turn it around, it’s going to take addressing these root causes,” Sharkawy said. “Paying attention to places like Brampton and Scarborough and Peel and understanding that if we try and address the people that are most vulnerable, more at risk, we’ll start to get this under control. If not, it’s going to be a full-blown healthcare capacity, disaster.”