Surgical renewal progress good, but improvements to B.C. health care needed: doctor

Surgical renewal progress good, but improvements to B.C. health care needed: doctor

The B.C. government’s update on surgical renewal shows that between 98 and 99 per cent of surgeries postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic have been completed, but many patients waited twice as long as they should have for non-urgent procedures.

In the first wave of patient cancellations, the B.C. government has completed 99.9 per cent of surgeries that were postponed where the patient and surgeon still wanted to go ahead as of Nov. 10. There were 2,555 surgeries postponed where patients no longer wanted to pursue surgery as a treatment.

In the second wave, there were 3,664 surgeries postponed with 99.2 per cent complete. In the third wave, 7,303 surgeries were postponed and 98 per cent have been completed.

While Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon and clinical professor of surgery at UBC, says though this is good news, there are still improvements needed for the health care system.

"I think they've done a reasonable job catching up from the backlog of the pandemic. Nobody can fault them for that," Gandhi said in an interview with CHEK News.

"But the number of operations, MRIs, procedures in general is not a good measure of health care. So just reporting on numbers of operations performed, specifically, elective operations performed, is not a metric by which good health care outcomes can be measured."

He says the report points out that the people who were waiting for surgeries sometimes had to wait more than twice what is ideal due to these postponements. The report says 18,733 non-urgent surgeries were performed on patients who waited more than two times the target wait, which is a 13 per cent increase from 2019.

"We don't want to have to continue to do quote unquote, elective operations at a much later period in time for people, we'd rather do them when they're necessary so that the outcomes are better, so that they do better, so that they aren't debilitated for longer," Gandhi said.

"And having a sustainable system that can cope with patients that need elective surgery, as well as whatever surge happens to hit us whether it be a pandemic or respiratory illness, whatever it is, is paramount to a good, well functioning healthcare system."

Gandhi says hospitals are currently facing a situation where there are staffing shortages impacting surgical teams, resulting in surgeries being cancelled.

READ MORE: BC Children’s Hospital prepared to double-bunk patients during busy respiratory illness season

"The problems with performing operations aren't solely related to the surgical team, you need many more people than a surgical team to do an operation because those patients have to get cared for before their operation and after the operation," Gandhi said. "If the nursing for that post operative care is not there, that's going to lead lead to cancellations and postponements, which is what's happening now."

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the surgical renewal shows that the health care system can catch up if surgeries need to be postponed.

"What making our surgical renewal commitment taught us is this: With dedication, innovation and drive from all parts of the health-care system, patients got their postponed surgeries. And we know this, too: If respiratory season and COVID-19 require postponements in surgeries this fall and winter, we'll quickly get those surgeries rescheduled. Patients will get their surgeries," Dix said.

"But key to that is the work we can all do to keep the pressure off our hospitals. Getting our COVID-19 and influenza shots, and taking the other steps we know prevent the spread of respiratory illness supports all those who are waiting for their surgery - and the health-care workers who support them."

READ MORE: Flu linked to deaths of six B.C. kids as province pushes vaccinations

Gandhi says the province should do more to prevent the situations that lead to surgeries being cancelled.

"What they need to do is implement strict public health measures, and give people guidance in terms of how to act and behave in terms of getting over this acute crisis that we're currently in so that we can get on with taking care of individuals the way we should," Gandhi said.

"As far as the future goes, we need to implement sustainable systems, again, that don't just react to problems but are proactive."

READ MORE: B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says no need for ‘heavy hand’ of mask mandate

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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