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Hospitals across Ontario grapple with virus-related absences amid 6th COVID-19 wave

As Ontario hospitals grapple with staffing pressures from the latest wave of COVID-19 cases, critics are voicing concerns that surgeries could again be cancelled.

The Opposition New Democrats asked Wednesday what further steps the province would take to avoid again postponing long-delayed procedures.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says the risk of that happening is not high because the province has added hospital beds and now has antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19.

But days after the province’s top doctor said Ontario might see up to 600 patients in intensive care during the ongoing sixth wave, hospitals say they’re already feeling pressure as a result of staff absences due to the virus.

Kingston Health Sciences Centre says more employees are calling in sick with COVID-19 currently than at any time during the pandemic.

London Health Sciences Centre says the sixth wave has had a significant impact, particularly from “rising numbers” of staff who are off work because of COVID-19 infections or exposures.

Hamilton Health Sciences says it has returned to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic services but isn’t in a position to continue ramping up as staffing is “precarious” due to workers isolating and other factors.

Risk of surgery cancellations ‘so high’: NDP 

Ontario most recently paused surgeries and other procedures in January when hospitals were under pressure from the first wave of Omicron cases.

Since then, the province has lifted most public health measures aimed at controlling the virus and officials have indicated they won’t be brought back as cases and hospitalizations rise again.

NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh pointed Wednesday to recent comments by Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer, indicating that ICU admissions could reach 600 over the next several weeks of the sixth wave.

“When the ICUs fill up, hospitals have no choice but to redeploy critical staff resources away from surgeries,” she said in the legislature.

“Why is this government continuing to claim that everything is fine when the risk of surgeries being cancelled is so high?”

Elliott said the province’s new hospital resources and other treatments for COVID-19 will help avoid that situation.

“Whatever happens with respect to the pandemic, we can continue to care for the people with COVID, but also to continue with those surgeries that many people have been waiting for a long period of time,” she said.

“We don’t want them to have to wait any longer.”

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