B.C. health officials say surgery hours close to pre-COVID-19 levels, backlog could be cleared in 15 months

B.C. health officials say surgery hours close to pre-COVID-19 levels, backlog could be cleared in 15 months
Province of BC
Michael Marchbank and Health Minister Adrian Dix at a news conference on July 21, 2020.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Michael Marchbank, former president and CEO of the Fraser Health Authority, say the current number of operating room hours for surgeries in the province is close to the levels seen pre COVID-19.

On March 16, non-urgent scheduled surgeries were postponed to help flatten the curve of COVID-19 and free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.

Non-urgent scheduled surgeries started again on May 18. That month, the B.C. government estimated it could take up to two years and at least $250 million in extra funding to address the 30,000 patients whose surgeries were postponed or not scheduled at all.

On Tuesday, Dix and Marchbank provided an update on surgeries from May 18 to June 25, saying the province now believes the backlog can be cleared in 15 months after the ministry took steps to increase operating “efficiency.”

In that time period, surgery operating hours reached roughly 97 per cent of levels seen in 2019. Fifty-two per cent of the patients who missed their surgeries in the spring had the procedures completed between May 18 and June 25, However, there is still a backlog.

“Given the period we were starting from, [that’s an] extraordinary accomplishment,” Dix said.

By mid-May 2020, officials estimated that B.C. had lost approximately 32,400 scheduled surgeries as a result of COVID-19. Waitlists for non-essential surgeries increased by approximately 7,900 cases from mid-March to mid-May. 

According to Dix, a total of 62,744 patients whose non-emergency surgeries had been postponed have been contacted to reschedule.

Marchbank said patients already on the waitlist are now waiting “significantly longer” (two or more months.) According to the province, overall wait times for surgery rose 26 per cent from mid-March to mid-May.

Urgent scheduled surgeries also make up a greater proportion of the surgeries being completed. More urgent surgeries are being prioritized, particularly for those who have already been waiting two times longer than normal.

A five-step plan, released on May 7, said the government intends to hire more surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists, including every one of the 1,550 nurses graduating from nursing school in B.C. this year, to help work through the backlog.

On Tuesday, Dix said that work is underway, with $815,000 set aside since May for recruitment.

Officials also plan to expedite training, open new and unused spaces, turn to private clinics and ask surgeons to work longer hours over the next four months — including on weekends and through the summer.

A statement said the province lost more than 14,505 operating hours in 2019 due to the “summer slowdown” caused by staff vacation and reduced hours.

Marchbank and Dix said Tuesday the slowdown expected this summer has been reduced by 52 per cent by managing employees’ vacations.

“I can tell you from experience, we tried many times to increase surgeries in the summer, and it’s hard to do,” Marchbank said.

“I don’t want to say that everything is going to be perfect, because I don’t think it is. There’s a lot of hard work ahead of us. We have to address these issues to fulfill surgical renewal commitment.”

Dix was asked during Tuesday’s press conference about the recent spike in cases in B.C. Over the weekend, the province recorded 102 new cases, including six new cases in Island Health.

“I’m concerned when there are 10 cases. When there’s an average of 34 cases over three days it has my attention,” Dix said.

Dix says B.C. will have to adjust again and again and again throughout this pandemic, and the province has to continue to double down on COVID-19. 

Watch Health Minister Adrian Dix and Michael Marchbank on July 21, 2020 below.

With files from CBC


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