Doctors and nurses who work in hospitals across the country have issued advice on treating a chronic problem they say is jeopardizing people's health: overcrowding in emergency rooms.

In a report released Thursday, they urged Ottawa and the provinces to increase funding to emergency wards.

The line-ups caused by staffing shortages are getting so long, many patients are giving up before they get to see medical personnel.

"There are prolonged delays in treating pain and suffering," said Dr. Doug Sinclair of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians.

"Patients are kept on stretchers when they should be in beds, and in chairs when they should be in stretchers," he told a news conference in Halifax.

"Pain relief and improvements in physical . . . and emotional well-being are delayed beyond acceptable limits," Sinclair added.

The doctors and nurses proposed several steps to improve care in emergency rooms, including:

  • Expand long-term care services to reduce the number of hospital patients waiting for beds in nursing homes.

  • Increase training opportunities for staff who work in emergency wards.

  • Improve hospital standards across the country.

  • Tie government funding to the quick transfer of emergency ward patients to hospital beds.

  • Develop pilot projects that try innovative ways to make emergency wards more efficient.

  • Increase access to more sophisticated diagnostic equipment, so that people's problems can be identified and worked on faster.

  • Use computers to help doctors and nurses find better ways of managing emergency rooms.

The National Emergency Nurses Affiliation said that the drain on limited resources will only get worse as Canada's population ages.

"Patients are presenting themselves to emergency departments with increasingly complex and more acute conditions," said Anne Cessford, president of the nursing association.

"There is a growing number of patients with chronic conditions . . . who require emergency services," she added.

The number of Canadians over 65 is expected to double within 30 years.