Manitoba restores medical services for critically ill children in central Nunavut

Manitoba’s health agency is now allowing critically ill children in central Nunavut to be admitted to pediatric intensive care two months after issuing a directive to send them elsewhere due to “unprecedented patient volumes”.

A spokesperson said in an email Tuesday that Shared Health is now accepting patients who are likely to need access to pediatric intensive care from the territory’s Kivalliq region as well as northwestern Ontario after suspending the program. at the end of August.

When Nunavut Medical Services Chief of Staff Dr Francois De Vet says he couldn’t help but smile when he heard the news.

“My main focus…is to make sure we’re providing the best possible care…as quickly as possible. Now that we’re back to the same level of care, it’s just an absolute relief,” he said.

The last two months have been filled with challenges, says De Vet, because unlike northwestern Ontario, Nunavut does not have intensive care units to treat the high number of young children struggling with illnesses. respiratory problems, which are often due to cramped housing and poverty.

Dr. Francois De Wet, Territorial Chief of Staff for Nunavut Medical Services, says he is relieved that critically ill children in the region can once again be flown to Winnipeg for care after a two-week disruption of services. month. (Beth Brown/CBC)

“We don’t have the capacity in the territory to take care of these children, so it’s problematic because if you tell us that we can’t take your child and that you have to find another space for him, it’s very hard for us to do that because we literally have to start phoning different [pediatric ICUs] to find support,” he said.

During these two months, at least 14 patients under the age of 15 were evacuated from Kivalliq by air, according to government information.

Some of the hospitals where they have found support are hundreds of miles away in London and Kingston, Ont., or Edmonton, Alta., De Wet says, but that poses another problem for the territory that relies heavily on ambulances. airlines to transfer patients.

“Generally, if we send a plane to Winnipeg, they could potentially outfit that plane, get it back in the territory and that’s a minimal delay to use that plane again for other patients,” he said. declared.

The doctor says sometimes flights to get patients to Ottawa Children’s Hospital aren’t available for up to three days due to Transport Canada guidelines that require pilots and staff to rest between flights.

Data from Nunavut indicates that there were 1,043 pediatric respiratory medical evacuations between January 2019 and October 2022.

Of these, 398 took place in 2022, almost four times more than in 2021.

Shared Health says it made the decision at the end of August to restrict access to Manitoba’s pediatric ICU to preserve capacity for Manitoba patients. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

In Manitoba, pediatric patient volumes have been so high that Shared Health made the decision to restrict access to the pediatric ICU to preserve space for local patients, the spokesperson said.

In a written statement on Tuesday, the health agency said the number of patients in the Children’s Emergency Department at the Health Sciences Center had “significantly increased” since late October, with respiratory illnesses and influenza at the forefront. origin of the peak.

So far in November, a daily average of 180.5 patients have visited the children’s emergency department, up nearly 24% from October, when the average daily patient visits were 145, 8.

It is also up almost 46% year-on-year: the daily average in November 2021 was 124 patients.

Despite the busy emergency and intensive care unit, Shared Health says it was still accepting patients from Nunavut who were unlikely to enter pediatric intensive care, who were referred or transferred to neonatal intensive care and those who faced an immediate threat to life and limb.

Supports for Inuit Patients in Manitoba

Another barrier for Nunavut children in need of care is the lack of language support for those who only speak Inuktitut, De Wet said.

That support exists at the Winnipeg Children’s Hospital, he says, as well as other resources at local Inuit organizations.

Maxine Angoo, manager of the Child First initiative at the Tungasugit Inuit Resource Center in Winnipeg, says the disruption of services in the territory underscores the need for better access to health care in Nunavut.

“It’s critical, isn’t it? It’s a life or death situation,” Angoo said. “We should have access to [health care.] We are the first peoples of this country. They should have the same access everywhere.”

Premier Heather Stefanson says the government’s Department of Health will announce a human resources strategy to address staffing issues at Manitoba hospitals.

“We don’t want to turn anyone away for health care in our province. We know there is a significant human resources challenge…we will continue to do what we can,” she told reporters. journalists on Tuesday.