Surgeries cancelled as COVID puts more pressure on London hospitals

The London Health Sciences Centre has decided to cancel many surgeries because of staffing shortages, new outbreaks at Victoria Hospital and the worsening COVID-19 situation in the region.

Many operating rooms will be shut down for the next two weeks

A discarded hospital-issue surgical mask lays on the asphalt on Windemere Road outside University Hospital in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC)

The London Health Sciences Centre is cancelling many surgeries because of staffing shortages, new outbreaks at Victoria Hospital and the worsening COVID-19 situation in the region. 

Medical teams were told Monday morning in an email acquired by CBC London that University Hospital would have seven operating rooms running and Victoria Hospital would go down to 10. That was the situation again today, LHSC said in a statement released Tuesday.

The LHSC's Surgi-Centre located across from Victoria Hospital, which opened to much fan-fare in early 2020 as a day-surgery facility for low-risk operations, also closed some surgeries, the hospital said.

Multiple sources tell CBC News that patients have been arriving at the hospitals only to discover they would not be admitted, with those working closely to patients calling the situation "a nightmare."

LHSC did not return multiple requests for comment over a 24 hour period as CBC sought to clarify the situation. Tuesday afternoon, it responded in an email that the hospital would "revisit planned surgical volumes" on a daily basis. 

"As of tomorrow, two [additional] ambulatory ORs will start at Victoria Hospital in the main operating rooms, two ORs will run at the Surgi-Centre and two [additional] ORs will run at University Hospital," said a statement attributed to Dr. Emil Schemitsh, Chief of Department of Surgery. 

"Any patient whose surgery is affected will be contacted by phone directly from their provider's office," Schemitsh said. 

'Not a decision we take lightly'

Surgical teams across the hospital first learned Monday by clinic services vice-president Julie Trpkovski about the decision to shut down operating rooms. She wrote in an email sent to CBC London by sources that the decision was made because of the "worsening local situation with outbreaks locally and in Oxford county."

Trpkovski also noted that there were "capacity challenges" due to break room capacity, and new outbreaks at Victoria Hospital and staffing shortages. 

She told medical teams in the same email that the Ontario Critical Care Command Centre had also asked hospitals to be prepared for 115 per cent capacity to support patients from other hospitals and regions.

"Cancelling surgeries and reducing volumes is not something we want to do, and not a decision we take lightly," Schemitsh said. "We urge all members of our community to do their part to help mitigate these outcomes."