Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia postpones elective surgeries indefinitely

Nova Scotia has postponed all non-emergency surgeries to make more hospital beds available as the COVID-19 pandemic ramps up.

Measure will make room for future COVID-19 patients, says Doctors Nova Scotia president

Elective surgeries, like hip and knee replacements and cosmetic surgeries, are being postponed indefinitely. (hxdbzxy/Shutterstock)

The Nova Scotia Health Authority has postponed all elective surgeries until further notice to prepare for COVID-19's imminent strain on the health-care system.

Elective surgeries are non-emergency surgeries like hip and knee replacements and cosmetic surgeries. Only cancer procedures and urgent or emergency surgeries will go ahead.

Doctors were notified in a memo Monday evening. The changes will take effect on Wednesday.

Dr. Gary Ernest, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said the situation is constantly evolving.

"The policies about what to do are changing on the fly as things change with the virus," he said. "So the instructions that you would have seen a week ago are different than today, and tomorrow may be a little different still."

In a press release, the health authority said: 

  • Elective outpatient visits are cancelled.
  • Individual services will contact patients whose appointments are proceeding. Dialysis, chemotherapy, radiation treatments, mental health and addications appointments will continue.
  • All non-urgent diagnostic imaging appointments will be rescheduled and walk-in x-ray services will be closed.
  • Cancer care imaging, PET scans and other time-sensitive scans will continue.
  • Outpatient blood collection services will not close completely but hours and number of locations will be reduced. 

The IWK Health Centre in Halifax is also suspending all non-urgent services effective March 18. All elective surgeries and clinic appointments are postponed and hospital staff will contact patients directly to reschedule. 

In a news release, the hospital said that while its emergency room remains open, all outpatient, ambulatory clinic appointments and community visits will be limited to urgent care visits only. This includes mobile clinics in New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Other provinces such as New BrunswickNewfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario are also restricting elective surgeries.

Dr. Gary Ernest is president of Doctors Nova Scotia and a family doctor in Liverpool. (CBC)

Ernest said it's best to take this step before more new COVID-19 cases emerge in the province.

"It's better to do that in advance in preparation and have beds that are available," he said. "It also gives us time to look at the people who are in the hospital and properly plan their discharge so that we're not we're not caught off guard."

There is currently one confirmed case and six presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the province.

Ernest said when someone gets an elective surgery, they usually have to recover in hospital for a few days.

"So those people were occupying a hospital bed that would be needed for somebody who would be ill," he said.

Ernest noted the measure would help cut back on the spread of COVID-19 by reducing peoples' exposure to each other.

"You limit the exposure to each other so you limit the ability of the virus to find a place to live," he said.

'They'll be disappointed'

Ernest said he doesn't know how many people will be affected by the measure to cancel elective surgeries, but he said it's certainly "significant."

He said he expects people to be disappointed, especially those who have been waiting more than a year for a knee or hip replacement.

"On one hand, they'll be disappointed that they have to wait longer," he said. "But on the other hand, the same people will understand that the best thing for them to do is to lessen the risk of them catching the coronavirus."

Ernest, who's a family doctor in Liverpool, N.S., said he's spoken with other doctors and patients who "are very much in favour of doing anything possible that would limit the chance of them picking up this virus."