SickKids experiencing “much longer than normal” wait times for non-emergency situations

Longer-than-normal wait times should be expected in the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children’s emergency department.

On Tuesday night, SickKids tweeted that its emergency department is experiencing “extremely high patient volumes and much longer than normal wait times for non-emergency issues.”

Dr. Jason Fischer, division chief of emergency medicine for SickKids, said an overwhelming number of patients are currently visiting the hospital due to the viral season and a lack of primary caregivers.

“We are seeing a lot of viruses circulating. Children have coughs, colds and fever. But the second problem is that there is simply a lack of access to care. We hear from families that they’re having trouble accessing their primary care, their family doctor, their pediatrician, their local urgent care is busy, their local emergency department is busy,” Fischer told CP24 Wednesday morning.

He said the hospital has experienced wait times of up to 12 hours, which can vary depending on the time of day.

“As everyone knows, not all patients arrive well distributed throughout the day. And if we have a high volume of patients arriving in the late afternoon, wait times can be three to four times what we would normally expect,” she said.

In its tweet, the hospital said it will continue to treat the sickest patients first.

SickKids also advised visitors to come prepared with bottled water, nut-free snacks, phone chargers and entertainment.

Dr. Dina Kulik, a pediatrician and founder of Kidcrew Medical, said her clinic has also seen an increase in visitors in recent weeks.

“So tons of pinkeye, tons of viral rashes, runny nose, cough, sore throat, gastroenteritis. It’s really all the viral symptoms that you can see, that we’re seeing in children right now,” he told CP24.

The influx of patients at SickKids and other medical facilities comes as a recent study revealed that 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 the nonprofit research institute ICES, found that the number of family doctors who stopped working doubled between March and September 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

“Nearly 1.8 million Ontarians do not have a regular family doctor,” Dr. Tara Kiran, the study’s lead author and a family physician at Unity Health Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, said in a statement. “Our findings suggest that things are only going to get worse, which is really concerning because family medicine is the gateway to our healthcare system.”

To avoid an unnecessary visit to the emergency department, Kulik recommends that parents monitor their children at home if they have mild symptoms, such as a runny nose, mild cough or diarrhea, or visit their doctor’s office or outpatient clinic.

“Unless a child is having difficulty breathing, difficulty keeping something down in terms of a drink, loss of consciousness, unless they have really significant symptoms worthy of an emergency, we want to prevent children from using the emerg unnecessarily,” he said.

Fischer also recommends that parents get their children vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19 to reduce their chances of getting sick, and use online resources to assess their children’s symptoms.

“The next thing is to use the resources that are available online, like ‘AboutKidsHealth’ which is available on our SickKids website. And also our SickKids virtual urgent care platform that allows parents, caregivers and patients to go online and check if their symptoms require an emergency visit or if they can wait until the symptoms are gone,” he said.

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