B.C. nearly clears backlog of surgeries one year after onset of pandemic

·2 min read
B.C.'s health minister says wait lists are down and the number of non-urgent surgeries being performed is up over pre-pandemic levels. (Submitted by the Vancouver Island Health Authority - image credit)
B.C.'s health minister says wait lists are down and the number of non-urgent surgeries being performed is up over pre-pandemic levels. (Submitted by the Vancouver Island Health Authority - image credit)

One year after tens of thousands of non-urgent surgeries were postponed due to the pandemic, B.C. says the province's health authorities have almost caught up.

On March 16, 2020, non-urgent surgeries were postponed indefinitely to ensure hospitals had the capacity to deal with unknown numbers of COVID-19 patients. In total, 32,400 surgeries were postponed.

In May, non-urgent scheduled surgeries resumed, but the province says more than 17,000 people decided not to proceed, leaving 15,373 procedures to be delivered.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Friday that 95 per cent of the 15,373 surgeries have been completed.

"The challenges of the last year have been unique and unprecedented. We have had our acute care hospitals affected by outbreaks ... which can affect surgeries as well," Dix said.

He said the province opened new and unused operating rooms, added hours on weekdays and weekends, and also hired more staff including surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists as part of its plan to catch up on procedures.

Dix said wait lists decreased from their peak last May to the point that they are now below levels at this time last year, when hospital beds were closed in anticipation of an influx of COVID-19 patients.

Just over 84,000 patients are currently waiting for surgery, a decrease of 10 per cent compared with last February.

The province's Surgical Renewal Progress Reports covering the period from Nov. 13, 2020, to Feb. 4, 2021 showed:

  • 23,502 urgent scheduled surgeries were performed, 1,731 more than in the previous November to February time frame.

  • The wait-list size for urgent cases was reduced by 12 per cent compared to the previous time frame.

  • Operating rooms ran 5,246 more hours over the previous November to February time frame.

  • Since April 1, 2020, 44 surgeons have been hired.

"We said that within 15 to 22 months, we would catch up on both postponed surgeries and those that were not scheduled and, despite the second wave, we remain on target," Dix said.

The B.C. government has allocated up to $187.5 million since the outset of the pandemic to support efforts for surgical renewal.