British Columbia

B.C. now aiming to clear surgery backlog in 15 months, rather than 2 years

More than half of the patients who had their surgeries postponed under pandemic restrictions have now successfully undergone their procedures, the province said Tuesday. 

Health authorities have caught up on 52% of surgeries cancelled during peak restrictions, ministry says

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pictured on May 28, 2020. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

More than half of the patients who had their surgeries postponed under pandemic restrictions have now successfully undergone their procedures, the province said Tuesday. 

Fifty-two per cent of the patients who missed their surgeries in the spring had the procedures completed between May 18 and June 25, Health Minister Adrian Dix said during a news conference. 

"Given the period we were starting from, [that's an] extraordinary accomplishment," Dix said.

More than 32,400 people either had their surgeries postponed or not scheduled at all after non-essential procedures were cancelled on March 16, in order to free up hospital beds in case there was a rush of COVID-19 patients.

Those patients left waiting either joined or remained on a pre-existing wait-list, bringing the total number of people waiting for surgery in B.C. to 93,000.

Surgeries resumed on May 18, the day before B.C. entered Phase 2 of its pandemic response plan.

Backlog could be addressed in 15 months: ministry

That month, Dix said it could take up to two years to address the backlog procedures postponed or not scheduled at all during the peak of restrictions to address the pandemic.

The province said Tuesday it now believes the backlog can be cleared in 15 months, after the ministry took steps to increase operating "efficiency."

The province said overall wait times for surgery rose 26 per cent from mid-March to mid-May. More urgent surgeries are being prioritized, particularly for those who have already been waiting two times longer than normal.

A five-step plan released May 7 said the government intends to hire more staff such as surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists, including every one of the 1,550 nurses graduating from nursing school in B.C. this year, to help work through the backlog.

Dix said Tuesday that work is underway, with $815,000 set aside since May for recruitment.

Officials also plan to expedite training, open new and unused spaces, turn to private clinics and ask surgeons to work longer hours over the next four months — including on weekends and through the summer.

A statement said the province lost more than 14,505 operating hours in 2019 due to the "summer slowdown" caused by staff vacation and reduced hours. Dix said Tuesday the slowdown expected this summer has been reduced by 52 per cent by managing employees' vacations.

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