Nova Scotia

Health authority outlines which services are ramping up after COVID-19 closures

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it’s bringing back some day surgeries, diagnostic imaging and laboratory services after they were shut down because of COVID-19.

Elective appointments and procedures in Nova Scotia were cancelled until June 30

MRIs are among the services that are resuming as the Nova Scotia Health Authority tries to catch up with the backlog of procedures that were cancelled because of the pandemic. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The Nova Scotia Health Authority says it's bringing back some day surgeries, diagnostic imaging and laboratory services after they were shut down because of COVID-19.

Nearly all services deemed elective were stopped during the first wave of the pandemic as a way to free up beds, staff and equipment. The reopening of the system is expected to take months.

Dr. Brendan Carr, CEO of the health authority, said Tuesday it isn't as simple as just rebooking appointments. He said they have to rethink the way the whole system will work, because COVID-19 has not been eliminated.

"We have to be thinking about our waiting rooms, and how many patients, people can be there and what patient flow needs to look like."

Over the last two months, about 1,000 health authority staff were redeployed to focus on the pandemic. Now some will resume their work in other departments.

Carr said he knows the public is anxiously waiting for health services to resume. "We are feeling that same sense of urgency."

When asked if anyone in the province has died because their appointments were cancelled, Carr said officials don't know and "it would be very difficult to attribute a death to a single thing like this."

Starting from scratch

The health authority has cancelled all appointments booked until June 30. Dr. Greg Hirsch, senior medical director of the perioperative program, said that gives them a window to reassess who needs immediate treatment, and bring them in first.

He said they continued to treat those who needed urgent care, but there are many who could wait for a 12-week delay.

"We want to make sure that those are the people we're going to get to next," said Hirsch. "We couldn't just go with what was on the books from before. We're reordering the list top to bottom, every doctor's office, every practice."

Hirsch said 2,100 booked cases — including surgeries and procedures — were cancelled across the province, but many more were affected because they stopped making further appointments.

"It could be three times, it could be four times that number."

Departments returning

In the surgical department, the focus will be on day surgeries and outpatient services such as cataracts and endoscopy procedures.

Outpatient clinics are also on the list to resume. They include wound care, ECG, renal, medical specialty and orthopedic assessment.

The health authority said it will also increase the number of CT, MRI and ultrasound scans across the province.

There will also be more appointments available for blood collection.

All patients will be contacted by departments and those phone calls have already started. But Carr said if someone's condition has worsened to the point where they believe they need to be reassessed, they should reach out to their health-care providers.

Dr. Brendan Carr says a review is underway to see if a similar service shutdown would be necessary if Nova Scotia faces a second wave of COVID-19. (Robert Short/CBC)

The timeline for each service varies depending on the location. Carr said they will constantly update the service reintroduction page on the health authority's website.

The remaining services that need to be brought back won't resume on a set timeline, Carr said. He said they have to reach certain benchmarks in public safety to start up each phase.

He said a review is already underway to see if a similar shutdown will occur if Nova Scotia faces a second wave.

"We definitely will highlight things we will want to do again and things we will want to change as a result of that learning."