Research from two doctors at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver recently published in The Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine looked at the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic in British Columbia.
They found a 15% overall drop in 911 calls and a 9% drop in critical illness calls.
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“Fifteen percent is a huge number,” study co-author Dr. Frank Scheuermeyer, emergency room doctor at St. Paul’s Hospital and associate professor at UBC, told Global News.
“People didn’t stop getting sick, they just stopped calling 911. We think it was because people were afraid of contracting COVID or they didn’t want to burden the health care system. . “
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The research comes amid concern over increasing pressure on hospitals in the province – and in particular intensive care units – due to the spread of more serious variants of the virus.
Intensive care admissions are at an almost pandemic level, while COVID admissions have reached levels not seen since early January.
Scheuermeyer said that while these pressures are real, they don’t necessarily affect other hospital functions – non-COVID-related units remain both safe and operational, and volumes in emergency rooms are actually down 10 to 15 percent, he said.
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And it could lead to dangerous, even fatal health problems.
“What we’re seeing are people who come in with three or four months of abdominal pain, and they have advanced cancer,” he says.
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“We’re starting to miss things like cancer, diabetes, heart problems, and these are going to have long-term implications for people’s physical health, emotional health, and quality of life.”
In their briefings, Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer, and Health Minister Adrian Dix repeatedly reiterated that ill British Columbians should not avoid seeking treatment for fear of exposure to COVID-19.
But Scheuermeyer expressed concern that the message was not getting through,
“We would like patients to go to the hospital if they are sick,” he said.
“We’re open, we’re there, we’re always there to provide care… it’s safe to go, and we don’t want to miss too many heart attacks and cancers and new diabetes.”
“There is still a lot of space. Hospitals are safe. Emergency services are safe. “
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