After her son contracted COVID-19 earlier this year, Jessica Botello said she was looking forward to his annual checkup. While three-year-old Jaxson has recovered from a high fever and an upset stomach, Botelho said she wanted to make sure he didn’t suffer any long-term complications.
But when she tried to make an appointment at her son’s clinic in August, she was told the earliest it would be in November, she said.
“[The secretary] Basically saying people are waiting three to six months to get an appointment,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Thursday. “They’re making excuses for everything that’s going on is COVID. “
Botelho was one of several parents who wrote to CTVNews.ca about their difficulties making doctor appointments for their children over the past few months. Not all email responses have been independently verified.
The rise in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases in children has overwhelmed pediatric hospitals across Canada with a surge in new patients. In addition to RSV, COVID-19 and influenza cases have also contributed to an increase in hospital viral infections, leading to what experts call “multiple epidemics.”
That prompted federal health officials to urge Canadians to wear masks indoors. In Thursday’s COVID-19 update, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said multiple layers of protection are critical to reducing the impact on hospitals of the fall surge in COVID-19, RSV and flu cases.
The increase in RSV and influenza cases in children across the country is “putting extreme pressure on children’s hospitals and community health care providers,” the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) wrote in a Nov. 11 statement to CTVNews.ca. 14.
“Unfortunately, this has meant increasing wait times,” the statement read.
Despite the difficult situation, CPS said pediatricians are working hard to continue providing care to patients.
“While we cannot speak to every situation, we believe that most pediatricians never stop seeing children in person,” the group wrote. “Many have set aside specific times of day for children with symptoms or fever, to protect their other patients.”
Botelho said her son’s clinic only sees patients with symptoms within an hour each day from Monday to Friday. During this time, parents can walk in with their sick children without an appointment. In the case of a medical emergency, they are advised to go directly to the nearest emergency room for help.
Botelho said she wasn’t sure whether allowing symptomatic patients to enter clinics at specific times would actually help curb the spread. This is because children under the age of two do not need to wear masks in the clinic.
“It doesn’t make a difference because if they’re under two, they don’t wear a mask,” said the Toronto-based mother of two. “So I can still go there with my one-year-old [he can] The result was sick. “
As COVID-19 and RSV and the flu continue to spread, Botelho said she’s very concerned about her children’s chances of getting sick. In addition to this stress, she said, there was uncertainty about whether they would be able to see a doctor within a reasonable amount of time if they did get sick.
“It’s frustrating because you know they have to get sick and build up their immune systems, but what’s going on right now is putting kids in the hospital and that’s my biggest fear,” she said. “What if he’s sick now, do I have to wait a few months for an appointment?
“All we want is to see a doctor to make sure our kids are healthy.”
Lack of exposure leads to weakened immunity
When her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter contracted pneumonia last month, Tanya Copley said she also struggled to make doctor appointments. Copley, who lives in Montreal, said her daughter’s pediatrician is currently on maternity leave.
Because of the limited capacity at her daughter’s clinic, Copley had to rely on doctors at other facilities when scheduling appointments for her daughter. Through the online platforms Centre Up and Rendez-vous santé Québec, she tried to book an appointment for her daughter, but due to high demand, places filled up quickly.
“Almost every minute I was refreshing my page on the site and I couldn’t find anything,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Sunday. “It’s just a nightmare, especially when you know your child has something like a respiratory illness.”
After several days of searching, Copley scheduled an appointment on Oct. 22 at the Centre Médicale Mieux-Être in Montreal, a 40-minute drive from where she lives. She said she believes part of the increase in demand for pediatric appointments is because parents and daycares have “let their guard down.”
“Before, as soon as they coughed, the nursery would call you and ask you to pick up your child, who was sick,” she said. “Now, all of a sudden, everyone has something, and all their little ones have.”
Tanya Copley appeared with her two daughters.
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr Howard Njoo said a lack of exposure to respiratory diseases also contributed to a weakened immune system in children. In the federal government’s COVID-19 update on Thursday, he said children who had been in lockdown for most of the past two years had particularly low immunity to RSV and other respiratory viruses because of COVID-19 public health measures.
Persistent shortages of children’s pain and fever medications, such as Tylenol and Advil, also play a role in the increased demand for appointments within Canada’s healthcare system, according to CPS.
“Before going to the emergency room, decide when your child is sick enough or if you’ve tried all other options long enough,” Copley wrote in an email to CTVNews.ca on Thursday. It’s definitely been a roller coaster.”
Dr. Alan Greer, director of family medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital, spoke to CTV News on Sunday. For parents trying to decide whether to take their child to the emergency room, he said to look for symptoms such as difficulty breathing, difficulty eating or drinking and chest pain.
Copley said after her visit to the clinic that her daughter was given antibiotics for pneumonia and has since recovered. Going forward, she said, she might rethink her strategy when trying to book her daughter’s doctor’s appointment.
“If they have a fever, I might try to find something right away rather than waiting two to three days,” she said. “Or call the paediatric clinic and not expect them to say you have to book online.”
Parents feel ‘stuck’
On Thanksgiving Monday, Stephanie Paradis said her 8-year-old son woke up for the third day in a row with a fever of about 38.9 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit), along with a sore throat and cough. That’s when she started thinking about taking him to their family doctor’s after-hours clinic.
But after visiting the clinic’s website, she found that they were not accepting patients with symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches or cough, she said.
“I’ve never seen this happen before,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview on Thursday. “Honestly, I was a little surprised, I felt sleepy.”
Instead, Paradis took her son to Guelph General Hospital, where they spent hours in the emergency room waiting for a doctor, she said. After an X-ray, her son was given antibiotics and a week later, his condition improved.
While her son got the help he needed, Paradis said she felt the situation could have been handled by her GP.
“We felt like we had no choice,” Paradis said of her family’s decision to go to the emergency room. “I feel like people are being redirected [to hospitals] Because family doctors are screening patients. It doesn’t help our already overwhelmed healthcare workers and hospitals. “
Stephanie Paradis appeared with her husband David Paradis and their son Logan.
Paradis said her GP practice has since changed its policy. Now, patients with symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle aches or cough must test negative at home using the COVID-19 rapid antigen test before seeing a doctor.
Still, Paradis said she was concerned about whether her son would be able to see a doctor so soon if he fell ill again.
“If he gets sick again, I don’t think he’s safe,” she said. “It’s very concerning.”
CPS requires Canadians aged 6 months and older to get their annual flu shot as soon as possible and to ensure they are up to date on their vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine.
“This, along with staying home when unwell and wearing a mask in public, helps slow the spread of viral illness and helps keep children healthy,” a statement from CPS read. “We ask everyone to do their part. A strength to reduce the pressure on children’s healthcare systems.”