Ontario asks its family medicine clinics to extend their hours


Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The Ontario government has asked thousands of family practice clinic workers to work evenings and weekends to ease pressure on overwhelmed children’s hospitals this fall.

In a note obtained by The Canadian Press, the director of the primary care division at the Ministry of Health, Nadia Surani, explains that the “difficult and complex” surge in respiratory diseases, predicted by health care workers, s finally materialized.

Seasonal flu, respiratory syncytial virus and COVID-19 are circulating in all areas of the province, Surani wrote in the memo sent Monday to family health teams.

“This scenario contributes to pressures on our healthcare system, particularly in the pediatric sector, and we expect high-volume pressures in our healthcare system now and throughout the winter.”

“I am writing to appeal for your support and ask your organizations to offer, until further notice, clinical services 7 days a week, including evening availability, to meet the needs of your patients. Please advise your patients of this availability so that they can seek treatment at the appropriate place for their health problems.

Children’s hospitals across the province are receiving patients far beyond their capacity due to the circulation of seasonal flu and respiratory syncytial virus. Emergency rooms and intensive care units in pediatric hospitals are overwhelmed.

Major Ontario pediatric hospitals in Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and London have canceled surgeries to redeploy staff to intensive care units, emergency departments and general wards.

Many clinics across the province are already offering extended hours to deal with the influx of patients with respiratory illnesses, the Ontario Association of Family Health Teams said in a memo to its members. . The government note does not constitute a directive to work seven days a week, the association specifies.

“During discussions with the ministry, this memo was not intended to be directive or prescriptive, but was a request for communication to your patients on how to access care, particularly for sick children, putting focus on receiving care through their frontline care teams first, so your patients don’t come to the hospital for treatment if they don’t need it,” writes the association.

“We have already given a lot”

The government memo has upset Dr Michelle Cohen, a general practitioner who works at Lakeview Family Health Team, Brighton. “In my opinion, we have done more than what was normally asked for, as with all frontline care and all health care, and that is quite shocking,” Ms Cohen said. Her clinic is already operating long hours, she said, after two and a half years of hard work.

« It’s not just children’s hospitals that are full: everyone is full, primary care and acute care are simply flooded with respiratory infections. »

A recent study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that the average number of overtime hours for healthcare workers across the country was the highest in more than a decade.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the government was grateful to healthcare workers for their contribution in tackling the current outbreak of respiratory disease.

“Because not all Ontarians have access to frontline care for their children during the regular work week or during regular working hours, we asked organizations to expand their clinical services to meet patient needs, especially for sick children,” said Hannah Jensen.

“This will help avoid unnecessary hospital visits and keep our emergency services available for those in need of urgent care.” Front-line care providers will be compensated by the public system, said Ms. Jensen.

Last week, children’s intensive care units in Ontario had more patients than beds, according to provincial data. Children and teenagers are also visiting the emergency room at a rate two to three times higher than usual at this time of year, according to statistics.

A slight downward trend was also reported last week in children visiting the emergency room for respiratory illnesses.

Ontario Health, the agency that oversees the province’s healthcare system, recently ordered general hospitals to accept children 14 and older into their intensive care units. He also asked them to accept children who no longer need to be in intensive care, but who are not yet well enough to go home.


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