In this Nov. 1, 2005 file photo, a doctor prepares a patient for eye surgery in Chicago. Doctors say they’re becoming increasingly concerned about how they’re going to handle the swelling backlog of elective surgeries once the immediate COVID-19 threat has ebbed.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

Canadian doctors fret over surgery backlog after immediate COVID-19 crisis

Some worry their elective procedures could become urgent by the time operating rooms are available

Doctors say they’re becoming increasingly concerned about how they will handle the swelling backlog of elective surgeries once the immediate COVID-19 threat has ebbed.

Hospitals have put off non-urgent surgeries to focus on the viral outbreak.

But doctors worry their elective procedures could become urgent by the time operating rooms are available.

“Our waiting times will increase and it’ll backlog,” said Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association.

The term elective can be misleading, bringing to mind optional cosmetic surgeries, for example.

But the term really refers to anything that’s not immediately life-threatening, and can include procedures needed to treat serious medical conditions, Buchman said.

Most patients in Canada already wait longer than recommended for their surgeries, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Only 75 per cent of patients in Canada received hip replacement surgery within the recommended 182 days of when the doctor agreed to the surgery in 2018, for example.

Only 69 per cent of patients needing knee replacements got theirs within the same recommended time frame.

And that doesn’t include the time it takes to get a referral to a specialist.

The number of people who have their surgeries within the benchmark time frames has been slipping slightly but steadily for several years, according to the statistics.

“We have a good system in many ways but our waiting times have always been the bane of our system,” Buchman said.

Buchman knows what life on the waiting list can be like. He received a hip replacement five years ago.

He spent roughly two years waiting for his surgery from the time he first visited his doctor.

“It was bad. I needed surgery and the surgery made a big difference in my life,” he said looking back.

While the need for a hip replacement isn’t life-threatening, waiting an extended period could have a serious effect on a patient’s quality of life, he said, limiting their ability to work.

READ MORE: B.C. hospitals getting some scheduled surgeries done amid pandemic

There are also conditions that might seem relatively benign at first, like gallstones, that can develop into dangerous conditions like sepsis, or blood poisoning, if left too long, he said.

Part of the problem is that surgeons are not going to be able to catch up once hospitals start getting back to those waiting list.

While Buchman hopes the surge in virtual care and telephone appointments may help doctors assess patients more efficiently in the post-COVID-19 world, they won’t be able to suddenly start doing more surgeries than before.

“We aren’t going to bring in more doctors to all of a sudden do twice as many procedures,” he said. “They’re working at 120 per cent as it is.”

Even if surgeons could somehow work safely at greater speed, time in the operating room is limited.

The pandemic has highlighted major gaps in Canada’s systems, and health care is no different.

According to the latest estimate from the Fraser Institute, the total number of procedures people were waiting for across the 10 provinces in 2019 was over more than one million. That meant 2.9 per cent of Canadians waiting for treatment last year.

The results of delays can be devastating, according to Bacchus Barua, the think thank’s associate director of health policy studies.

“Wait times can, and do, have serious consequences such as increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish. In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes — transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities,” he wrote in his report late last year.

It’s not clear when hospitals will begin allowing less urgent surgeries to resume, and it will be up to individual provinces to decide.

New federal guidelines say that in order for provinces to begin to reopen their economies, hospitals should have the capacity to handle those procedures, along with any new cases of COVID-19, including access to protective equipment for workers.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusHealthcare

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Woman who talked to unconscious husband, a Victoria police officer, for 30 years focus of study

Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987

Vancouver Island pig hogs the limelight by crashing Saturday night party

Central Saanich oinker reunited with owner thanks to missing animal help group

Canadian Ferry Association cautions against politicizing BC Ferry operations

Reasonable safety, not politicized safety way to go, Canadian Ferry Association says

Beloved Parksville volunteer awarded key to the city

July 6 (her 90th birthday) proclaimed as ‘Joan Lemoine Day’

EDITORIAL: Weather playing guessing games

Remember those near zero precipitation totals of July 2017 and ‘18?

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Cumberland keeps pushing for groundwater protection

Council will raise issue with Province again through Union of BC Municipalities

Esquimalt splash pad back in action

Esquimalt Adventure Park reopens July 6

Indigenous leader Ed John pleads not guilty to historical sex charges

Ed John’s lawyer entered the plea by telephone on behalf of his client

RCMP investigate threat against Indigenous totem poles on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast

Police describe the nature of the threat as ‘sensitive’

Cowichan School District wins top trades training award

“The welding program provided an amazing head start on my career”

Victoria Classic Boat Festival cancelled due to safety concerns

Organizers say Inner Harbour doesn’t provide enough space for physical distancing

Renowned Greater Victoria hockey player back to help with female youth teams

Micah Zandee-Hart has played for the senior national team since 2016

Virtual film industry career fair offers chance to talk with the experts

Experts in 11 different departments, three film union representative will be in attendance

Most Read