What’s behind LHSC’s 18-hour ER wait times?

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The wait time has reached 18 hours for all but the most serious medical conditions treated at London’s two emergency departments.

“It’s definitely the most tense we’ve had in the emergency department,” says Dr Christie MacDonald, head of citywide emergency medicine at London Health Sciences Center (LHSC).

Patients are told to prepare for a long wait by bringing a bottle of water, phone charger, book, and snacks to the ER if they have non-urgent or non-emergency conditions, including:

  • Cups
  • Sprains
  • Simple fractures or broken bones
  • earache
  • Fevers
  • Coughs and colds

“They are waiting a long time to be seen, but all of our patients are waiting longer than we would like,” adds Dr. MacDonald.

The pressure is felt in all areas of emergency health care.

According to the union representing paramedics in London and Middlesex County, growing wait times are having a negative impact.

“When a patient waits 6 to 8 p.m., that means the daytime paramedic passes over to the night shift, and sometimes the night shift hands over (the patient) to the same day shift,” explains Jason Schinbein, president of OPSEU Local 147.

“It is devastating to inform the patient and his family that he must wait 10 hours for an emergency situation and 18 hours for an urgent situation”, adds Abed Al-Nasser Kaddoura, vice-president of the OPSEU Local 147.

Wait times have averaged 18 hours after rising steadily over the past three to four months.

MacDonald says multiple factors are all contributing to the problem, including sicker patients with more complex conditions, an increasing demand for care and the challenge of staffing in health care across the province.

“There’s not just one solution, there are multiple solutions and the fact that the whole system works together,” she says.

Schinbein fears wait times will get even longer.

“When you see a paramedic attending to five people in the hallway, that’s a bad sign of where it’s going,” he says. “I promise it will get worse if we don’t start taking aggressive action to fix the problem now.”

The LHSC emphasizes that people facing serious medical emergencies should not hesitate to seek treatment.

People with less serious health conditions should see their family doctor, walk-in clinics, emergency care from St. Joseph Health Care or Telehealth Ontario.

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