Nova Scotia

Cape Breton hospital cancels elective surgeries due to overcrowding

Elective surgeries have been cancelled recently at the Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney due to overcrowding in the hospital's acute-care beds and emergency department.

Regional hospital in Sydney is at capacity partly due to inpatient services withdrawn at 2 community hospitals

The Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney began cancelling elective surgeries due to overcrowding in the hospital and its emergency department. (CBC)

The Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney has been cancelling elective surgeries recently due to overcrowding.

The Nova Scotia Health Authority said 13 were cancelled last week and three more were cancelled on Tuesday, because beds weren't available.

The health authority said the hospital and its emergency department have been full, in part because 19 beds on Friday were being taken up by patients in acute-care beds waiting for long-term care placement.

Dr. Chris Milburn, head of emergency medicine for the health authority's eastern zone, said the regional hospital has always been busy, but the problem has become acute since family doctors in North Sydney and Glace Bay stopped providing inpatient hospital services.

They made that decision earlier this year because the province pays them less than hospitals who specialize in inpatient care, which led to congestion in the regional hospital's emergency department.

Now, it's affecting elective surgeries.

Dr. Chris Milburn, chief of emergency medicine for the Nova Scotia Health Authority's eastern zone, says Cape Breton Regional Hospital is overcapacity partly due to a pay dispute over inpatient care. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

"We run near 100 per cent on our bed capacity anyway at the regional, so we're always tight, but we've managed, and now with this new situation where we have all these empty spaces in Glace Bay and those patients are coming into Sydney now, that means Sydney is overstuffed," said Milburn.

The health authority couldn't say whether elective surgeries would continue to be cancelled this week because the decision depends on bed availability on any given day.

Milburn said the issue is bound to arise again, though.

"It's pretty much guaranteed to continue until they find doctors to look after the inpatients again in Glace Bay and Northside, and we can repatriate patients from those communities back there to let us have space at the regional," he said.

The lack of beds also means longer wait times in the ER, said Milburn, and that is stressful for patients and for emergency room staff.

"It's a disaster for our emergency room, too," he said.

"When these patients are stuck in hospital ... that leaves us with no room to work in the emergency room. So when people come into the emergency room and they face an eight-hour wait to get seen, a lot of times now that's because all our beds are full of these admitted patients with no bed to go to."


About the Author

Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at


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