BC ready to cancel surgeries as respiratory cases overwhelm overcrowded hospitals

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Plans to make room for patients with respiratory illnesses by canceling surgeries are in place at BC hospitals, Health Minister Adrian Dix says, as parents worry about long emergency room visits with sick children.

But the province has not yet reached the point where operations must be scrapped, Dix said Thursday, facing calls from the opposition to step down.

Parents and the opposition have refused long waiting times in emergency rooms across BC for children who are suffering severe respiratory symptoms.

“I’ve raved about our health care system all my life, but now I see it slowly crumbling and it scares and worries me,” said Rachel Thexton, who waited hours for medical attention after her three children each fell ill. over the past two weeks.

“In my lifetime, I have never seen this level of clear, unavailable resources for anyone, children or adults, to receive health care when they need it in an emergency,” she said in an interview.

The Burnaby mother said she faced hurdles to get care for each of her children, including being turned away by her overwhelmed family doctor and by urgent care centers and enduring long wait times at emergency rooms in Vancouver and Burnaby.

Thexton said her children were eventually seen by doctors, who diagnosed one with pneumonia and the others with severe sinus and ear infections.

She said she is lucky to have a family doctor, but often she is unable to get an appointment and emergency care has been unavailable.

“The ER is never my first choice. It’s my last resort,” Thexton said.

“I don’t want to bring my child or myself there to overwhelm the system if it’s not absolutely necessary.”

Adrian Dix, BC’s health minister, says the province has not yet reached the point of canceling operations. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The province is dealing with a severe disease season and measures will be taken to accommodate acute respiratory cases, Dix said.

He said postponing non-urgent surgeries is a way to make room in hospitals for patients, especially children, who are battling flu and other respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.

“We have other steps we don’t want to take, but they would be, for example, delaying non-urgent surgeries and then catching up quickly after that,” Dix told reporters in the Legislature.

“That step is available to us. We haven’t done it yet. We knew this was going to be a tough season and it is.”

BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver says it triages less severe patients from his emergency room to a nearby area due to a surge of people with respiratory illnesses.

Christy Hay, the hospital’s executive director of clinical operations, says the department is seeing mostly viral illnesses, including COVID-19 and increasing cases of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

She says in an email that the increase in RSV and influenza was expected based on trends in other parts of Canada and around the world.

Dix said the current situation with respiratory disease in BC is worrying for parents and people waiting for surgery.

“You don’t want to delay any operations unless you need to,” he said.

“It’s terrible if it’s your child or you who gets a delayed operation, whatever the reason.”

BC Liberal Leader Kevin Falcon said he has heard “horror stories” daily from parents who have endured long waits in emergency rooms with their children.

“Why is it that one flu season can cause us to have such a massive crisis in our health care system?” he said at a press conference.

“(The government) won’t get better results unless they have the courage to make big changes to the system.”

The Liberals used question period in the legislature to repeat calls for Dix to quit.

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