Wait to complete all surgeries delayed due to COVID-19 could take 22 months in B.C.

90% of those who had surgery postponed during the first wave of the pandemic have now had surgery, government says

adrian face mask
Health Minister Adrian Dix approaches a podium while wearing a face mask | B.C. government

B.C. doctors are unlikely to complete all non-essential surgeries that were delayed to free up hospital capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic until potentially late 2022, the B.C. government said January 5. This is despite the B.C. government pumping $187.5 million in new money to support additional surgeries in the 2020-21 fiscal year.

The good news, however, is that 90% of patients who had their surgeries postponed during the first wave of COVID-19 were able to have their surgeries completed by November 22, according to Health Minister Adrian Dix.

"We launched B.C.'s commitment to surgical renewal in May," he said. "Since then, learning and adaptation have occurred each step of the way. These are significant achievements, and our work will continue to build on this progress in the winter-to-spring period."

On March 16, the B.C. government started to postpone non-urgent scheduled surgeries to ensure hospitals had the capacity to deal with COVID-19 patients. It then announced on May 7 that these surgeries would start to resume on May 18, and the volume of non-essential scheduled surgeries reached pre-COVID-19 levels by mid-June.

Dix's updated numbers show that as of November 22, workers in each of B.C.'s health authorities had completed calls to 111,584 patients, who were on waitlists before May 7, to ask them if they were ready to reschedule their surgeries.

Dix had said on May 7 that the pandemic prompted the government to postpone about 14,000 surgeries, while an additional 16,000 would have been scheduled but were not because the government wanted to ensure that there were sufficient empty hospital beds to accommodate any potential spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations. A further 24,000 patients may have also needed surgeries but were without a referral to be on the waiting list as a result of not being able to see specialist doctors as a result of the pandemic.

Between May 18 and Nov. 12, 163,696 patients received their surgeries, including 90% of the patients who had a surgery postponed in the first wave of COVID-19, Dix said. The province added an additional 7,979 hours of operating room time, compared to the same dates in 2019. 

Healthcare officials prioritized surgeries deemed urgent and those that involved patients who had been waiting a long time. The result was that 996 more urgent, scheduled surgeries were completed, and 6,299 more surgeries that involved patients who had been waiting longer than two times their target wait time were completed. This reduced the size of wait lists. 

B.C.'s non-essential surgery wait list on November 22 was down 6%, compared with March 31, 2020, and 12% since it peaked on May 28 at 100,297, Dix said. The wait list for surgeries deemed urgent has fallen 9% since March 31, and 11% since its peak, he added, while the wait list for surgeries deemed non-urgent has fallen 5% since March 31, and 12% since the peak.

These wait-list reductions follow a ramp-up in provincial recruitment.

Provincial data shows that since April 1, health officials have hired:
• 33 surgeons;
• 32 anesthesiologists;
• three general-practice anesthetists;
• 305 perioperative registered nurses;
• 38 perioperative licensed practical nurses;
• 171 post-anesthetic recovery registered nurses; and
• 173 medical device reprocessing technicians.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom