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

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey Council Chambers. (File photo)
Surrey council approves $420,570 in grants for local arts, culture groups

This happened at Monday night’s council meeting, to cover 2021

Surrey-raised actor Michael Coleman in some of the roles he’s played since the mid-1990s. (submitted photo)
Chat with Robin Williams helped send Surrey’s Coleman into world of acting

‘For me, it was a game-changer,’ says co-founder of Story Institute acting school

In September 2018, former Vancouver Canucks player Dave Babych tees off at Northview Golf & Country Club in Surrey during the 35th annual Jake Milford Charity Invitational tournament. (File photo: Tom Zillich)
No ‘shotguns’ or banquets: Surrey golf courses pitch COVID-safe tournaments for 2021

With spring on the way, course operators book tournaments that will involve ‘tweaks and adjustments’

Delta City Hall. (James Smith photo)
Harvie, Kruger to represent Delta on Metro Vancouver board

Delta reps to sit on 11 of 16 standing committees and task forces

Members of the Surrey Fire Fighters’ Charitable Society picked up their new van from Mainland Ford in Surrey Wednesday (Jan. 27, 2021) after the society’s old van was stolen and damaged. (Submitted photo: Dylan Van Rooyen)
After thrift store van stolen and damaged, Surrey dealership helps out firefighters’ charitable society

The Community Thrift Store van was stolen in South Surrey in December

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Search called off for small plane that went down in rough water south of Victoria

Plane bound for Port Angeles from Alaska believed to have one occupant, an Alaskan pilot

BC Place Stadium in a photo posted to cisc-icca.ca.
Roof of BC Place a stage for performers during online music festival

‘This will be the first time any artists have performed from the 204-foot iconic Vancouver rooftop’

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Driver crashes vehicle twice in one day near Princeton

Abbotsford woman, 29, wasn’t injured in either incident

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Most Read