December 9, 2023

A surge in the number of children sick with a respiratory illness has forced Newfoundland and Labrador’s children’s hospital to cancel some routine surgeries and appointments.

In a press release sent Friday afternoon, Eastern Health said the cancellations at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John’s will start Monday. Patients will be contacted if they’re affected and the appointment will be rescheduled.

“Eastern Health staff and physicians continue to meet demand, by mobilizing additional human resources, waiting areas and treatment spaces, to help support the emergency department and in-patient units,” reads the release from the health authority.

The move comes two weeks after Eastern Health said the number of children coming to the emergency room with respiratory illnesses was increasing but not overwhelming ER capacity — though they did acknowledge they expected to see numbers rise further.

Speaking at the time, the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, said the increase in respiratory viruses “is expected and indeed happened routinely prior to the pandemic.”

“The health system is prepared to handle surges such as this,” she said.

The health authority is asking people to make an appointment with their primary health-care provider for any non-urgent concerns before going to the emergency department. 

But the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association estimates nearly one in four people in the province don’t have a family doctor, and a countrywide shortage of over-the-counter children’s pain medicine such as Tylenol has left more people looking to emergency rooms for help.

Eastern Health says if parents aren’t sure whether to go to the emergency room, they should call the provincial health line at 811. 

Hospitals across Canada have been dealing with a similar surge in respiratory illness cases, leading to overwhelmed emergency rooms, long wait times, and a health-care system pushed to the brink.

The situation has led some of Canada’s top doctors to call on provincial governments to bring back mask mandates.

Fitzgerald has said she can’t do that since the situation isn’t a public health emergency — but recommends wearing a mask in places where there’s high risk for contracting a respiratory illness, including COVID-19. 

“The recommendation may become stronger as time goes on and as we see changes,” she said at the time. “Obviously as we monitor and make our decisions based on the evidence, that may change.” 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


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