Oct. 21, 2021

SMA president renews call for gathering limits in wake of patient transfers to Ontario

The president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) is renewing his call for mandatory gathering limits in the wake of the news that Saskatchewan has been transferring patients to Ontario.

“We need more action now to lessen the harm Saskatchewan citizens are experiencing from COVID-19, as well as the trauma felt by those working in our health-care system,” said SMA president Dr. Eben Strydom.

“The transfer of critically ill patients out of Saskatchewan to Ontario is a clear sign that our health system can’t cope,” Dr. Strydom said. “This is not a medical challenge – it is a full-blown crisis that will only get worse as COVID-19 cases continue to jeopardize our ability to care for all Saskatchewan patients, even those who aren’t suffering from a COVID illness.”

The SMA, in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN), on Sept. 29 called for additional public health measures including to blunt the fourth wave of the pandemic, augmenting a position statement released Aug. 26 by medical health officers warning of dire consequences without additional public health measures. At the time of the SMA/SUN statement, the health system was already enacting surge plans – including the pausing of elective surgeries and suspension of the province’s organ donation program – to manage the strain the health-care system was experiencing.

One of the public health measures recommended by the SMA and SUN is a reinstatement of limits on indoor gatherings for both private and public events, which has yet to be implemented by the government. Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer has urged people repeatedly to voluntarily limit their contacts and the size of gatherings, while individual physicians have similarly recommended limits on gatherings.

The SMA believes gathering limits must be implemented immediately as a public health order. “We need to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the community,” said Dr. Strydom. “An order that reduces close contacts with other people and households will help accomplish this. We are not asking for a lockdown. We are asking for a temporary measure during the present health crisis.”

Modelling released by the government on Wednesday predicts dire consequences if the government maintains its present course, which is based on a belief that restrictions penalize the vaccinated. “No one is penalized by public health measures that protect people and safeguard the viability of the health system, which is now strained beyond capacity,” said Dr. Strydom. “In fact, it’s the opposite. A lack of additional measures, which have proven effective during previous waves of the pandemic, puts people at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, puts further pressure on the health system, and jeopardizes the care of all patients in Saskatchewan.”

Dr. Strydom added the release of modelling data is helpful as it provides a stark warning for the future, with ICU cases potentially doubling to 200 by Jan. 1, 2022, without additional public health measures and if people don’t immediately limit their contacts with others.

“The measures proposed by physicians are proven to work and are grounded in sound medical science. The government should heed the advice of medical experts. We are running out of time and options. The situation is dire no matter what scenario is outlined in the government’s modelling, but strong public health measures will still make a difference and will prevent further harm and death,” said Dr. Strydom. He said the province needs to be vigilant for up to four weeks until cases decrease to 10 per 100,000 people from the present 26 per 100,000 people, and ICU numbers drop substantially.

Dr. Strydom described Dr. Shahab’s emotional Wednesday news conference as heartbreaking. “The truth is that health care has essentially come to a standstill for many patients, which has affected physicians and all health-care workers who want to provide the best possible care. The public should know that our seriously hampered health system has grave consequences for many patients. The government needs to manage this pandemic in a way that considers the health-care needs of all patients and prevents unnecessary death and suffering, as Dr. Shahab himself said.”

The transfer of critically ill patients out of Saskatchewan to Ontario is a clear sign that our health system can’t cope. This is not a medical challenge – it is a full-blown crisis that will only get worse as COVID-19 cases continue to jeopardize our ability to care for all Saskatchewan patients, even those who aren’t suffering from a COVID illness.

Dr. Eben Strydom

President, Saskatchewan Medical Association

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