SickKids hospital is experiencing a major backlog in pediatric surgeries with approximately two-thirds of its patients on its waiting list missing the target “window” for their operations, an increase of 40 per cent in the last 18 months at Canada’s largest pediatric hospital.
Associate chief of surgery, Dr. Simon Kelley, said it’s normal for long wait times at children’s hospitals, but COVID-19 has made the wait significantly worse by reducing the number of permitted elective surgeries. He said the decision is worrying.
“Surgery is particularly important in children in terms of time because of growth and development … and surgery is often timed critically with certain stages of development and that’s why having a long waitlist where children are missing the clinical window is such a concern,” said Kelley.
One of Dr. Kelley’s patients is four-year-old Emmett Fisch, who was born with one leg shorter than the other. His first of several corrective surgeries was scheduled for more than a year ago. Fisch is still waiting to be operated on.
“Summer turned into fall, turned into winter, turned into the pandemic and we’re still waiting,” said Adam Fisch, Emmett’s father.
“The longer time goes on without intervention, one leg is shorter so it becomes harder for him to move.”
Kelley explained time is of the essence when it comes to pediatric surgeries and he has numerous concerns for Emmett’s being so delayed.
“The complications and risks of initial surgery are increased as we’re missing the clinical window,” he said.
“Secondly, missing developmental potential and growth of [Emmett] to give him the best possible outcome. And thirdly, it delays his further surgeries to integrate into school and develop socially as well as physically.”
For the Fisch family, it’s an added stress during an already difficult time.
“Whether waiting is going to make his day-to-day life harder, whether it’s going to make recovery harder because as kids get older, their bones just don’t heal as easily,” said Adam.
SickKids staff said modelling data suggests the waitlist will exceed 5,000 cases in the new year and even if it gets back to 100 per cent capacity, the number of patients will continue to increase.
Kelley said what is needed to improve wait times for kids like Emmett is a major investment in services to reverse years of chronic underfunding that COVID-19 has now exposed.
“Rebuilding perioperative services so we can invest in the specialized staff we need across the board, open up operating rooms not being used, and for us to be able to work on weekends and evenings, whatever it takes,” he said.
SickKids asked the Ford government for $24 million in annual funding. Back in September, the province announced an investment of nearly $284 million to go towards reducing Ontario’s surgery backlog.
Adam said reducing COVID-19 will help reduce the surgery backlog.
“The faster that we all as a community can work together to get past this and make responsible decisions, the sooner we get back to normal and the sooner that all these other people that are indirectly affected can start to live their lives again,” he said.
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