Thousands of non-urgent surgeries postponed by pandemic have been rebooked

More than 2,500 non-urgent surgeries that were postponed to make hospital beds available for those with COVID-19 were booked this week.

A total of 2,586 surgeries were booked May 18 through May 24, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday. Of those, 638 were in the Island Health region.

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“We’re getting started,” he said. “It’s a very challenging process. But what this indicates is the commitment of our surgeons, of our nurses, of our health-care workers, to providing the same energy in addressing people waiting for surgeries as we have provided in our response to COVID-19.”

Since May 7, when the province announced its plan to restart non-urgent surgeries, health authorities have called 12,016 patients — about 40 per cent of the backlog of 30,298 patients whose elective surgeries were cancelled or weren’t scheduled as a result of the pandemic.

The province has estimated it will take between 17 and 24 months to clear the backlog. The first year of the plan will cost an estimated $250 million. About 75 per cent of the cost will be for labour, as more surgeons — especially anesthetists — and nurses, cleaners and office assistants are hired.

Island Health is about “halfway through” calling 4,000 people on the Island who had surgeries and other procedures postponed, CEO Kathy MacNeil said during a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday.

Normal activity for non-urgent elective surgeries in operating rooms has resumed, she said, anticipating that hospitals will be operating for extended hours by June 15.

Rebooking of surgeries and diagnostic procedures is based on the urgency of the case, MacNeil said. On Tuesday, the health authority began rebooking “semi-urgent” procedures and next week plans to call patients for “elective” non-urgent routine procedures.

About 69 per cent of hospital beds and 53 per cent of critical -care beds are occupied across the province this week. That number is higher in Island Health, where more patients are in hospital beds awaiting transfer to alternate levels of care, such as long-term care homes.

The province plans to increase surgical capacity to “near normal pre-COVID levels” over four weeks.

By the end of the month, private contracted facilities are expected to be performing a portion of the postponed procedures. Surgical suites across the province should be open extended hours seven days a week by July and August.

Dix said while progress is being made in rebooking postponed surgeries, the effort will require “our ongoing commitment to use the skills we have learned from Dr. [Bonnie] Henry and from public health officials to stop the spread” of the novel coronavirus.

Henry, the provincial health officer, has said a second wave of infections is “inevitable,” explaining there is no record of a pandemic that has not had a second wave.

Dix said he expects all of the surgeries to be completed, but said the plan will be shaped by what happens with COVID-19.

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