Provinces begin to address backlog of surgeries in wake of COVID-19
TORONTO -- It could take well over a year to clear, but some Canadian hospitals are beginning to address a backlog in elective surgeries cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
In B.C. and Ontario, hospitals have released plans to ramp up the thousands of sidelined elective surgeries that take into account the need to care for COVID-19 patients. Alberta, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have also allowed elective surgeries to resume.
“The question is how many and how fast do we ramp up,” said Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, the surgeon-in-chief at the University Health Network in Toronto. “It’s becoming increasingly concerning.”
In recent months, fear has mounted of another health care crisis from the thousands of cancelled or postponed surgeries. In B.C., where elective surgical services will resume on May 18, officials said it could take up to two years for the health-care system to catchup and clear the backlog. The consequences of cancelled surgeries have appeared around the country already. In April, a 50-year-old father of two in B.C. died waiting for a surgery to prepare his kidney dialysis that had been cancelled in March.
In the eyes of some health-care professionals, patients waiting in pain are another kind of front-line worker.
“When we talk about frontline-care providers really many of the heroes are the patients that are waiting at home,” said Dr. Fayez Quereshy, a surgical oncologist at UHN and interim vice president at Toronto General Hospital.
Cancer patients around Canada are fearful the disease could spread while they wait for hospitals to address the backlog of surgeries. Though she’s not undergoing active treatment for her thyroid cancer, 28-year-old Deana Ruston, who spoke with CTV News, is worried her condition could worsen and go undetected in the interim.
“It is impacting my chronic health condition, my cancer, as is going forward,” she said. Ruston has had two surgeries for thyroid cancer, but can’t get a follow-up ultrasound appointment until the fall, she said.
As surgeries are rescheduled, hospitals have put into action guidelines for a new normal. In Ontario, no specific date has been set for when surgeries can resume, but Health Minister Christine Elliott said last week that cancer and cardiac surgeries “would be among the first” to resume. Earlier this month, Ontario Health released a set of requirements for hospitals before they move forward, including a stable number of COVID-19 cases and a stable supply of personal protective equipment and medications.