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COVID-19: How a memo to ‘ramp down’ certain surgeries will affect London, Ont., hospitals

As of Friday, London Health Sciences Centre is caring for 31 inpatients with COVID-19, including 14 in their critical care and intensive care unit. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

Service changes are on the way for some London hospitals after the Ontario Hospital Association directed members to “ramp down” all elective surgeries and non-emergency activities starting Monday amid the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The directive aims to help “provide care for a large wave of COVID patients requiring hospitalization,” according to a tweet from OHA president Anthony Dale announcing the directive.

Read more: Ontario hospitals told to ‘ramp down’ all elective, non-emergency surgeries due to COVID-19

The directive will require London Health Sciences Centre to postpone surgeries for some of its patients. As of Friday, the hospital network is caring for 31 inpatients with COVID-19, 14 of whom are in critical care or intensive care units.

“We’re unfortunately not able to do as many operations or surgeries as we normally would be able to do,” said Dr. Adam Dukelow, the chief medical officer for LHSC.

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“So we have to prioritize those that are the most emergent or urgent in order to free up staff to go take care of COVID patients in our ICUs.”

Dukelow says while LHSC has had redeployment plans in place throughout the pandemic, often to help staff testing sites and vaccination centres, this will mark the hospital network’s most significant internal redeployment related to COVID-19.

LHSC says patients will be notified directly if their surgery is postponed

Read more: COVID-19: More vaccine access on the way for London and Middlesex County

LHSC is dealing with a backlog of about 5,000 elective surgeries as a result of the pandemic, according to Dukelow.

“If you compare sort of the COVID year versus the year previous to that, that would be the high end of the backlog number. It’s probably somewhat less than that, given that screening wasn’t done and referrals weren’t made for a period of time,” Dukelow said.

Dukelow says things should get better once the third wave of the pandemic subsides. He expects the wave will peak in mid-April, with the amount of COVID-19 patients decreasing in the following weeks, allowing LHSC to return to doing more scheduled activity.

“The type of scheduled activity we are able to do depends on the nature of what’s happening at the time,” Dukelow said.

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“If we still need nurses and respiratory therapists in the ICU, then we won’t be able to bring the (operating room)… back up, but if we don’t need them in the ICU, then we may be constrained by beds, so we would do more surgeries on patients that don’t need a bed after their surgeries.”

Read more: COVID-19: New university residence outbreaks declared at Western and King’s

St. Joseph’s Health Care London says there will be no changes to patient care services at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Parkwood Institute or Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health care as a result of the new directive.

“All patients should attend their appointments as usual,” St. Joseph’s said in a media statement published on Friday.

“This includes surgical and outpatient appointments at all sites.”

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