Overcrowding, hallway medicine, shortages in long-term care, world-famous wait times, technology shortages, and spiralling costs are just a few of the problems that warranted concern long before COVID, writes Dr. Shawn Whatley. Below is an excerpt from the article, which can be read in full here.

By Dr. Shawn Whatley, February 2, 2021

With severe lockdowns in effect in many parts of the country, Canadians are told again and again that these measures are required to keep our health system from collapsing due to an influx of COVID-19 patients.

It’s a potent message. And who can help but sympathize with the exhausted nurses and doctors watching too many patients die in the hardest-hit regions?

But what Canadians should be asking is why, 11 months into the pandemic and in the midst of a second wave everyone knew was coming, are we again faced with a choice of locking down or having our hospitals overrun? Had we used our time wisely, we would be having a much different debate about the necessity of locking down.

COVID gave medicare the stress test we had long hoped to avoid. Pre-COVID, Canada had 2.5 hospital beds per 1,000 population, compared with 4.7 for the OECD average. Ontario has even fewer per capita. Ontario had 22,400 acute-care beds before COVID. It needs 68,000 beds overall to match the OECD average. Despite this massive shortfall, Premier Doug Ford added only 3,100 beds in 2020 — 15 times less than needed to close the gap to the OECD average.

With so few beds, Canadian hospitals often overflow. Hospital-bed occupancy rates routinely hit 100 per cent capacity and higher. Headlines about patients in bathrooms and sunrooms appear each winter in Canada. By comparison, average OECD hospital occupancy usually hovered between 70 and 80 per cent pre-COVID, ideal for patient flow.


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