Nearly 40,000 children waiting for appointments at CHEO

There are tens of thousands of children in our region waiting for appointments at CHEO and many of them are waiting longer than doctors recommend.

The children's hospital is calling it a hidden crisis. Close to 40,000 children are affected by the backlog and as time passes, their conditions can become worse.

According to data from CHEO, there are more than 23,000 children waiting for follow-up appointments at the hospital and roughly 65 per cent of them have been waiting longer than is clinically recommended. In addition, 14,000 children still haven’t had their first visits, and 60 per cent of them have also been waiting longer than recommended.

"We're really quite worried," said Stephanie Carter, director of ambulatory care at CHEO. "These kids are waiting at home, they're waiting with a diverse set of conditions, and it makes it really difficult to shine a light on that, but we really do need to call attention to that."

It comes as pediatric hospitals across Ontario are calling for help and decrying the state of health care in Ontario.

Carter says the issue gets worse with each passing year.

"We do need more resources," she said. "Right now, we get 45,000 requests for care a year. We have capacity to serve about 35,000, so, as you can imagine, that means that every year we're growing the wait list longer and longer."

CHEO says waitlists were a problem before the pandemic, but the increased demands on the hospital have worsened the situation. The percentage of patients waiting longer than recommended has grown from around 45 per cent pre-pandemic to more than 60 per cent now.

The hospital is slowly working its way back to normal after cancelling surgeries for months amid a wave of respiratory illnesses. Last week, it resumed care for older teenagers after sending them to adult hospitals.

"Even in this past surge of viral activity, what we had to do was close and reduce care in many of our outpatient services to free up clinicians and physicians to go and support in the areas where demand was spiking," said Carter. "That means the kids that were waiting for care in our clinics are going to now wait even longer."

The waitlist for surgeries is more than 2,000 children long at CHEO alone.

Carter says parents should work with their primary care providers whenever possible, and know that CHEO is committed to addressing the backlog.

"We're committed to advocating for the funding and support that we need to be able to see these kids in a timely manner," she said.

Despite the backlog, the hospital stresses that children who need emergency care will get it.

"All children and youth requiring emergency care, whether for medical, surgical or mental health concerns, can come to the CHEO Emergency Department," CHEO said in a news release on Jan. 17. "Families can also continue to seek emergency care at any of the region’s hospitals that may be closer to home."

The hospital has a resource list for parents to know when to come to the emergency room.