British Columbia

For people left waiting, B.C.'s plans to resume surgeries is welcome news

Thursday's announcement that British Columbia will begin resuming surgeries postponed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic is welcome news for many across the province.

30,000 patients had surgeries postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic

On Thursday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said It could take up to two years and at least $250 million in extra funding to address the extensive backlog of surgeries. (Syda Productions/Shutterstock)

Thursday's announcement that British Columbia will begin resuming surgeries postponed to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic is welcome news for many across the province, but especially so for Michael Coyle. 

The Coquitlam man, who suffers from polycystic kidney disease, had been waiting to undergo a kidney transplant when the pandemic struck. This week, he received a call from the transplant clinic that he had a tentative surgery date. 

"It is really nice to get the call," Coyle said. "It's just something that's just hanging over your head waiting to happen. There's a lot of uncertainty and there's still a lot of uncertainty."

Coyle is among the 30,000 patients whose surgeries were postponed or cancelled after the province put restrictions on non-urgent surgeries in mid-March in order to build up capacity in hospitals to fight COVID-19.

He says he's nervous about getting a surgery during the pandemic, especially because family members will not be allowed due to visitor restrictions. 

"So I think me and my donor will go down there and we'll have to spend a few days alone at the hospital," he said. "You don't have that support network ... Anything to do with the medical system these days is a very lonely affair." 

Michael Coyle, 49, and his son Eamon Fuller and their dog Curie. (Michael Coyle)

On Thursday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said it could take up to two years and at least $250 million in extra funding to address the extensive backlog of surgeries.

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

Connie Jorsvik, a former cardiac and surgery nurse who now works as a patient advocate with Patient Pathways, says while it's good news the government will be spending money to address the backlog, a lot of people are anxious about getting timely information about their status.

"There are a lot of people who are in crisis," Jorskvik said.

She says communication with the surgeons' offices was often difficult pre-pandemic and now, with the extra backlog, could be even more challenging.

"Sometimes I sit on hold for an hour or more waiting for a receptionist to pick up the phone or I'll leave a message that doesn't get answered for days," she said. 

"I think it's really vitally important that surgeons and their receptionists and their teams are constantly keeping their patients up to date with where they stand ... so that people feel more reassured."

Dr. Sam Bugis, a general surgeon and vice-president of physician affairs with Doctors of B.C., acknowledges that dealing with the backlog of surgeries will be an unprecedented challenge. Specialists see not only those patients who've had their surgeries postponed, but others who need followups or screening and will then be moved onto the waiting list. 

"We haven't seen the breadth or volume of this kind of postponement of cases," he said. 

But, he says, his colleagues are anxious to care for their patients.

"Having been a surgeon for a long time, we're used to working long hours. We're used to sometimes giving up weekends. I think my sense, both personally and from my colleagues, we want to look after the patients," Bugis said.

Coyle says the path ahead is still dependent on people continuing to physically distance to keep COVID-19 numbers down. 

"There's a lot of vulnerable people in our community and there's a lot of people on standby waiting for surgeries," he said. 

"If we blow it, all those surgeries get cancelled or postponed again." 

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

With files from Yvette Brend, BC Today, On The Coast

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