Code Gridlock

Chris Simpson rants about the crisis in Canada’s hospitals.


Last month at the Canadian Medical Association’s (CMA) annual meeting, Dr. Chris Simpson called for a dramatic reshaping of the Canadian healthcare system in order to address the healthcare needs of Canada’s ageing population. He introduced a policy framework guideline that outlines senior-friendly changes in areas including wellness and prevention, primary care, home care and community support, acute and specialty care, long-term care, and palliative care. Dr. Simpson also called for politicians to commit to a national seniors strategy to meet the care needs of Canada’s ageing population in the upcoming federal election.

In a short video that is a part of the CMA’s video series on senior care, Dr. Simpson explains “code gridlock” and calls upon all Canadians to demand a national seniors strategy.

Screenshot 2015-09-22 10.16.34Here’s a transcript of Dr. Simpson’s video:

Welcome to that great symbol of Canadian healthcare—the hospital. The hospital is kind of like Canada’s Statue of Liberty. It’s where you’ll find our tired, our poor, and our huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Make no mistake, miracles happen here everyday. But far too often these days the miracle is if the patients can actually get a bed. Or, if you’re a senior who’s recovered from their illness and waiting to go home, actually getting out of their bed.

The crisis in Canada’s hospitals has led to the creation of a new medical code, code gridlock. Just think of downtown traffic snarled on a Friday afternoon. We have emergency doctors treating patients in hallways because there are no beds. We have staff scrambling to free up beds and we have social workers calling in favours to get a bed in a local nursing home. In other words, those who need to get into hospital can’t and those who want to get out of hospital, well they can’t get out either. For those of us who are working in Canadian hospitals, battling code gridlock has become the new normal.

Now, I can hear you thinking “hey doc, you’re the one with the white coat, what’s the problem?” Well the thing is, many of the people who are in here don’t need to be here.

The Canadian healthcare system, the one that helped a certain Mr. Douglas become the greatest Canadian also used to deliver the greatest Canadian healthcare. But a funny thing happened on the way to the 21th century: needs changed, and our system didn’t. Way too many patients end up here when they would be better served in another setting.

So what’s the missing piece of the puzzle? Well, say it with me now: “strategy!”

We need a national seniors strategy to ensure that patients who are well enough to leave the hospital actually have some place to go. We need better home care and residential options so that we never again have to hear the term “bed blocker.” And we need every federal candidate in every federal riding to stand up and say “Yes! I’m on board. If elected I will do everything I can to make a national seniors strategy a reality.”

We need you, me, and every Canadian to demand a plan.


Chris Simpson is Professor of Medicine and Chief of Cardiology at Queen’s University. He is also the Medical Director of the Cardiac Program at Kingston General Hospital / Hotel Dieu Hospital and the past President of the Canadian Medical Association. @Dr_ChrisSimpson

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