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  • Writer's pictureJoanna Frketich

Empty ORs and waitlisted patients in Ontario: What's going wrong?

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Patients languish on wait lists while ORs sit empty, Ontario Health Coalition claims

Group calling on province to expand use of ORs in public hospitals instead of expanding private clinics

Ontario Health Coalition photo, Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition

The Ontario Health Coalition says the majority of Hamilton’s operating rooms (OR) are not used on evenings or weekends.

The advocacy group claims Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) has at least two ORs that have been permanently shut down and that other operating rooms sometimes close when there isn’t enough staff.

“In Hamilton, there’s so much unused operating-room capacity while patients are languishing on wait lists,” said Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition. “It’s not being used because they don’t have the staffing and the funding to run them.”

The coalition is calling on the province, in a report released Nov. 2, to expand the use of operating rooms in public hospitals instead of increasing the number of surgeries done privately but paid for by OHIP. In May, the Progressive Conservative government passed Bill 60, which allows more surgical and diagnostic procedures to be offered at private clinics. “There’s no reason whatsoever to pay to rebuild or expand operating rooms in private clinics,” said Mehra. “There is tons of unused operating room capacity in the local public hospitals that we have all paid to build over decades. They’re sitting there.” HHS did not answer questions about whether it has shutdown operating rooms or provide how many ORs run on evenings and weekends.

The hospital network has 14 functioning operating rooms at Hamilton General and is restoring a pre-existing OR to bring that number up to 15. There are also nine operating rooms at Juravinski Hospital, two at Grimsby’s West Lincoln Memorial Hospital, and eight at McMaster Children’s Hospital and McMaster University Medical Centre. HHS has struggled to get the number of surgeries back to what it was before COVID — it is currently at 90 per cent of its pre-pandemic surgical volume and doesn’t expect to reach 100 per cent until spring.


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