N.B. surgeries down 13% compared to pre-pandemic levels, data shows
About 20,500 fewer surgeries were performed, and that led to longer waits and backlogs, says CIHI
About 20,500 fewer surgeries were performed in New Brunswick during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to pre-pandemic levels, new data shows.
That's roughly a 13 per cent decrease in procedures, such as knee and hip replacements, cataract and cancer surgeries, between March 2020 and September 2022, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
"Decreases in surgical volumes have been the result of many factors including the timing and impact of COVID-19 cases and the health system responses, which included the cancellation of scheduled surgeries," CIHI, an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides data on Canada's health-care system, said in a report Thursday.
Those decreases translated into longer waits, the data indicates.
Only 28 per cent of adult knee-replacement patients in New Brunswick were able to access surgery within the recommended time frame of 182 days between April and September 2022, for example, compared to 44 per cent during the same period in 2019.
Provinces and territories will need to exceed pre-pandemic surgery numbers in order to recover and to reduce surgical backlog.- CIHI report
The national average was 50 per cent, and pre-pandemic, 70 per cent.
For hip replacements, 38 per cent of New Brunswickers were treated within the benchmark, down from the pre-pandemic 48 per cent.
Across Canada, the average was 57 per cent in 2022, down from 75 per cent in 2019.
Meanwhile, the need for such procedures continues to grow because of factors such as an aging population, CIHI noted.
"Provinces and territories will need to exceed pre-pandemic surgery numbers in order to recover and to reduce surgical backlogs," it said.
"Ongoing staffing shortages continue to hamper efforts to reduce the backlog."
The biggest drop in surgeries in New Brunswick occurred at the beginning of the pandemic, in April 2020, when 3,800 fewer were performed that month alone.
Surgical volumes bounced back by June, with provincial monthly totals largely near or above pre-pandemic levels until October 2021 during the Delta wave of COVID-19 and plunged again in January 2022 during the Omicron wave.
The province has struggled to reach pre-pandemic levels ever since, the data shows.
Cataract surgeries rebounded
Catching up on cataract surgeries, which can be done in day procedure rooms or community clinics, has been less challenging for some jurisdictions than joint-replacement surgeries, which are primarily performed in hospital operating rooms, CIHI suggested.
In New Brunswick, nearly 5,700 cataract surgeries were performed between April and September 2022, with 62 per cent of adult patients treated within the recommended time frame of 112 days. That's comparable to pre-pandemic levels, when about 5,900 surgeries were performed, and 66 per cent of patients were treated within the benchmark.
The data reveals a similar picture nationally. In 2022, nearly 182,000 surgeries were performed, 66 per cent within benchmark, compared to roughly 183,000 in 2019, and 70 per cent were within the recommended time frame.
In October, the New Brunswick government introduced legislation that created a legal framework for a two-year pilot project in Bathurst to move cataract surgeries to a local clinic, which would free up two days of surgical time per week for other procedures at the Chaleur Regional Hospital.