Average ER wait times in Ontario reach new yearly high in July

Average wait times for patients being admitted to an Ontario hospital from an emergency room have reached levels not seen in the last year.

According to new data released by Health Quality Ontario (HQO), patients spent an average of 20.7 hours in an emergency room waiting to be admitted in the month of July.

Just under a quarter of patients were admitted within the provincial target time of eight hours.

In June, the average wait times in Ontario were about 19.1 hours, while in May, patients were waiting an average of 20.1 hours.

This is the highest average wait time for hospital admission from Ontario ERs in the last year, according to HQO.

Average length of stay in emergency for patients admitted to hospital in Ontario from July 2021 to July 2020. (Health Quality Ontario)

The month of July was fraught with staffing shortages in the health-care sector. At the time, some hospitals in Ontario began to close their emergency rooms due to staffing challenges, while other health networks issued urgent calls for volunteers to fill nursing shifts.

The closures prompted the provincial government to release a plan to stabilize the health-care system, which included an investment in private clinic surgeries, a pledge to add up to 6,000 new health-care workers and speed up the approval process for international nurses, and Bill 7—legislation that will allow senior patients in hospital waiting to be placed in a long-term care home to be transferred to an alternative facility or face a daily $400 fee.

The government argued the plan would help free up hospital beds for those who need them.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the government’s commitment to expanding health care and long-term care will help alleviate some of the strain being put on the provincial systems.

“If we can deal with a percentage of the alternative level of care patients … it will give us some flexibility and frankly the ability to admit people sooner when those beds are available,” she said. “We’re planning for the future.”

“But in the meantime, we also have to acknowledge that there are hospital beds that couldn’t be and should be used for acute patients and not for alternative level of care patients.”

The wait times in Ontario ERs significantly decrease for patients who are not admitted to hospital.

In July, patients waited an average of 2.1 hours to be assessed by a doctor in an emergency room.

Patients with “low-urgency” ailments such as a sore throat and vomiting are assessed and released within 3.2 hours, while those with “high-urgency” ailments, including treatment for heart attacks or seizures, were assessed in about 4.7 hours.

In all cases of patients who did not require admission to hospital, the average wait times were mostly within provincial targets and remained generally unchanged over the last year.