British Columbia

B.C. has almost caught up on surgeries postponed by pandemic, province says, but thousands still waiting

A little more than two years after thousands of non-urgent surgeries were cancelled over the pandemic, officials say B.C.'s health-care system has almost caught up by performing a record number of surgeries over the year.

Current surgery waitlist is shorter than it was in 2019/2020

Nurse Gary Wong prepares medicine in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., on March 31. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

More than two years after thousands of non-urgent surgeries were cancelled due to the pandemic, officials say B.C.'s health-care system has almost caught up by performing a record number of surgeries over the last year.

The Ministry of Health said Wednesday teams have completed 337,560 scheduled and unscheduled surgeries since last March — 21,284 more than in the first year under COVID-19 and the highest ever number performed in a year in B.C.

"The word used to describe our Year 2 performance is the same used to describe our Year 1 performance: stunning," Health Minister Adrian Dix said during a news conference.

"Every surgery, every one, is life-changing to the patient who receives it."

On average, 91.6 per cent of people who saw their surgeries postponed since March 2020 have now had those procedures.

Non-urgent surgeries were first postponed indefinitely on March 16, 2020, to ensure hospitals could deal with unknown numbers of COVID-19 patients. In total, 32,400 surgeries were postponed during that wave.

Thousands more procedures were postponed in subsequent waves, as well as during the extreme heat and flood-related weather events last year.

Long waits remain

But Lauren Swan, a recreation therapist in Vancouver who was put on the surgery wait-list in March 2021, says the numbers the government is touting don't include the people just sitting on a wait-list whose surgeries were never scheduled.

Swan has a degenerative disc disease that causes severe nerve pain down her legs and in her lower back and pelvis. Surgery to relieve her pain, which prevented her from working, was classified as elective. 

When no one was able to give her a concrete date for surgery, or even a time frame, she decided to go abroad for her operation. She had surgery in France in February. She says it cost her about $30,000 with all her travel and accommodation included.

"It was a matter of putting myself and my quality of life first," she told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition. 

"Our system wasn't able to support me and give me the surgery that I needed."

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lane Dielwart says people are often waiting up to two years for surgery and doesn't think those wait-times will change. 

"As of right now, I don't think we can be patting ourselves on the back saying we're doing an excellent job," she said, adding that there are many people who are still waiting for surgery.

She said there isn't enough space or nursing staff for orthopedic surgeons to operate, even though there are enough surgeons.

Just over 88,300 patients were on B.C.'s surgery wait-list as of Wednesday, which is nearly six per cent fewer than the number waiting before the pandemic in 2019/2020. 

The ministry said the province has opened new and unused operating rooms, added hours on weekdays and weekends, and also hired more staff including surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists as part of its plan to catch up on procedures. 

Since the outset of the pandemic, the province has allocated up to $187.5 million to support surgical renewal efforts.

With files from The Early Edition and BC Today


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