British Columbia

Catching up on B.C. surgery backlog will take up to 2 years, province says

It could take up to two years and at least $250 million in extra funding to address the extensive backlog of elective surgeries postponed in B.C. since the peak of its pandemic, the provincial government announced Thursday.

More than 30,000 surgeries have been postponed or left unscheduled in B.C. since mid-March

B.C. Premier John Horgan is joined by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix as they discuss reopening the province's economy in phases during a news conference at the legislature in Victoria on Wednesday. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

It could take up to two years and at least $250 million in extra funding to address the extensive backlog of elective surgeries postponed in B.C. since the peak of its pandemic, the provincial government announced Thursday.

Officials said there are 30,000 patients whose surgeries were postponed or not scheduled at all after the province put restrictions on non-urgent surgeries in mid-March.

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

"It's an enormous challenge," said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix during a news conference Thursday.

"Our surgery renewal plan ... is going to be a massive renewal," he said. "It is a hugely ambitious plan that will keep up with new demands for new surgeries and clear the backlog created by COVID-19."

The province will begin calling patients who had their surgeries cancelled on Thursday to confirm whether they want to go ahead with the procedure during the pandemic or continue waiting.

Officials said urgent surgeries, the majority of which are for cancer patients, will be prioritized. Around 14,000 patients who have been waiting more than twice as long as recommended by clinical guidelines will also be a priority.

The province said surgical procedures will resume on May 18. Officials hope the system will be back at its pre-COVID capacity four weeks later and running at full capacity by mid-June.

If all goes according to plan, officials said, it will take between 17 and 24 months to catch up on procedures. The estimated $250 million in extra funding, which will largely be set aside to increase staffing, would only cover the first year.

Officials also cautioned the plan could fall apart if B.C. sees a sudden resurgence in COVID-19 cases or a second wave of infections in the fall. To have a chance at success, the province said it will need to drastically increase capacity in the health-care system in a matter of months. 

WATCH | B.C. health minister says cancelling elective surgeries was the right decision 'at the time':

B.C. made the right decision cancelling elective surgeries: health minister

CBC News BC

11 months ago
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Despite the extensive backlog of elective surgeries, B.C.'s health minister says cancelling them was worth it to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:39

Health-care capacity must increase, officials say 

A five-step plan released Thursday 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.

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.

Surgeries will need to resume in a way that maintains patient and staff safety while keeping some bed space free for any patients sickened by the coronavirus, the province said.

Minister Dix said supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been confirmed, as have the beds required to care for both surgical patients and those with COVID-19.

The province is increasing screening measures for incoming surgery patients. Those who get the call to come in for their procedure will need to self-isolate and must be assessed for COVID-19 at least twice in the three days leading up to their appointment.

"It is important, when you have your surgery scheduled, that you are staying very close to home," said Dix.

A hospital worker wearing a face shield and mask is seen at a COVID-19 assessment centre for staff at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver on March 19. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Surgeries will not restart in hospitals with ongoing outbreaks, such as Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.

Elective and scheduled surgeries were cancelled on March 16 to free up acute care space at B.C. hospitals in case of a potential surge of COVID-19 patients. 

Most of the postponed procedures were in ophthalmology, orthopedics and general surgery, the province said Thursday.

On Wednesday, the province said elective surgeries would be restored across B.C. as part of the plan to gradually ease restrictions on daily life.

Acute care wards and critical care units have been operating below capacity since mid-March and the rate of hospitalization rates for COVID-19 patients has fallen steadily in recent weeks. There were 74 such patients in hospital as of Wednesday, including 19 in intensive care.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

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