British Columbia

B.C. continues to grapple with rising cases of respiratory illness among children

British Columbia continues to see rising numbers of children with respiratory illnesses and long waits in hospitals. One family doctor says limited access to PCR tests is also making it difficult to diagnose her young patients.

Health Ministry to speak Monday about protecting children through influenza season

Wait times in the B.C. Children's Hospital emergency department dropped on Sunday but were as high as 10 hours on Friday and Saturday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver had another busy weekend, as cases of flu and respiratory illness among children continue to soar across the country.

The estimated wait time to see a doctor was reported to be over 10 hours on Friday and over nine hours on Saturday.

Sarah Bell, the hospital's chief operating officer, said the emergency department continues to experience high volumes and high acuity — when a high number of patients require prolonged attention and care from nursing staff.

On Sunday, the hospital told CBC News that it was not diverting patients and no child needing the highest level of pediatric care would be refused admission.

Bell said parents should only bring children with a respiratory illness to the emergency room if they're having trouble breathing, adding that children who are younger than three months and have a fever and are dehydrated with diarrhea or vomiting should also go to the ER.

"You probably don't need emergency care if your child has a cough, cold, sore throat, the flu, pink eye or an earache," she said.

WATCH | Children's hospitals across Canada under strain: 

Children’s hospitals cancel surgeries, redeploy staff during patient surge

2 months ago
Duration 2:45
Children's hospitals across Canada are diverting staff, cancelling procedures and, in some cases, even calling on the Red Cross for help due to surging cases of respiratory infections.

The hospital said it co-ordinates with the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Victoria General Hospital and regional health authorities to balance needed resources and make sure children receive care at the most appropriate location.

'Working harder than we ever have before'

Dr. Susan Kuo, a family doctor in Richmond, B.C., says she and her colleagues are getting phone calls from distressed parents every day they're at the office.

"I have never seen this many sick children with respiratory illness — this many sick children, period," she said in an interview. "Every family doctor I know, we're working harder than we ever have before."

Kuo says she's especially worried about how difficult it is for children to get a PCR test for COVID-19.

Two of her young sick patients who were showing symptoms of the virus but had tested negative on rapid testing kits at home were told they couldn't get a more reliable, lab-certified test unless they were so ill they needed to be admitted to hospital.

"My diagnosis is based on doing testing and PCR testing is very crucial," said Kuo.

Kuo said she needs to determine if her patients have COVID-19, influenza or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) so she can prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Dr. Susan Kuo, a family doctor in Richmond, B.C., says she's seeing more children with respiratory illnesses this flu season than she ever has before. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)

Chris Brandt is a father to four-year-old twins and says he brought his daughter to B.C. Children's Hospital last week and his son to a hospital in Sechelt on Saturday.

"Luckily both visits just turned out to be ear infections," he said. "In both cases, the staff were absolutely amazing. But there was a four-hour wait last week ... and [Sunday] there was a three-hour wait."

Brandt says it's stressful for parents to head to hospital with their children and not know how long they'll have to wait to get treatment.

"It's tough with young kids, that are too young to understand why we're waiting," he said. "I can't imagine 10 to 12 hours."

Health Ministry, Green Party to address situation

B.C.'s Ministry of Health will give an update Monday morning on protecting children through the influenza season.

Health Minister Adrian Dix, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and executive lead of Immunize B.C. Vaccine Operations Dr. Penny Ballem are set to speak in Vancouver at 11:30 a.m. PT.

The B.C. Green Party says its leader Sonia Furstenau and pediatric surgeon Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi will also be addressing media on Monday.

A party spokesperson sent out a media advisory, saying Fursteneau and Gandhi will respond to the situation in B.C. children's hospitals and the Minister of Health's announcement on the current respiratory illness season at 1 p.m. PT.

With files from Janella Hamilton and Georgie Smyth

now