Ontario is asking health clinics to stay open longer to relieve pressure on medical emergencies

Ontario’s Department of Health is asking its Family Health Team and Nurse Practitioner clinics to work “at full capacity” — including nights and weekends — to help keep more patients out of crowded hospital emergency rooms.

But many of these clinics are already doing this to handle all of the family’s medical delivery requirements during an early wave of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 cases, Kavita Mehta, CEO of the Ontario Family Health Teams, said Wednesday.

“Most of them offer evening clinics Monday through Thursday and they have at least one clinic on the weekend,” Mehta said.

The petition was issued Monday by the primary health care branch of a note With the subject line “Important Request from the Ministry – Respiratory Disease Season.” The memo acknowledged that family health teams and similar clinics are working “tirelessly”.

The memo asked that clinics be open “seven days a week, including availability in the evenings, until further notice, to meet the needs of your patients. Please inform your patients of this availability so that they can seek care in the setting appropriate to their health concerns.”

The intent of the memo, Mehta said, is to get clinics to stay open longer “if there is capacity,” which would be more feasible for large family health teams with, say, a dozen doctors than for a team of five.

“Capacity is a big problem. Burnout is a big problem,” she added, noting that family doctors are busy trying to catch up with patients receiving delayed medical care and screening during the pandemic. Family health teams offer a broader range of services than individual practitioners.

Health Minister Sylvia Jones faced several questions about long waits at hospitals during the legislature’s daily questioning period on Wednesday following news reports on Children’s Hospital in London, Ontario. He became the last to cancel pediatric surgeries due to the crisis.

“How many children will have to wait hours and hours for care before this government takes action to relieve the burden on hospitals and ensure our children get the care they need?” Interim New Democratic Leader Peter Tabuns said.

Jones replied, “Obviously it’s very upsetting for all of us to hear about parents who have to wait with their children when they’re accepted, because they’re waiting for that bed to be opened.”

“But I also think it’s important for us to understand and appreciate that these are not new issues and they are not new problems,” she added, blaming previous governments.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the memo appeared to show a lack of understanding of the number of patients the family health teams were dealing with.

“It’s like the minister and the prime minister don’t really understand what’s going on.”

Green Leader Mike Schreiner added, “Primary health care faces the same health human resource challenges as our hospitals, our long-term care, and the entire health care system… There are not enough family physicians so that everyone has access to a doctor’s family.”

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