Over half a million fewer surgeries have been performed since start of COVID-19: report

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More than half a million fewer surgeries were performed across Canada during the first 16 months of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to previous years, a new report suggests.

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The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) reports the pandemic’s profound impact on the health care system of each province and territory, which will continue to be challenged even after the effects of COVID-19 have faded.

“We don’t know where the health care system is going to land as it works to improve,” said Tracy Johnson, director of health systems analytics at CIHI.


“Addressing this surgical backlog will certainly be one of many challenges, as it continues to adapt to the pandemic.”

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According to health data compiled and analyzed by CIHI for the report, about 560,000 fewer surgeries were performed between March 2020 and June 2021 compared to the previous 16-month period through 2019.

Much of that decline occurred during the first wave of the pandemic in March and April 2020, when Johnson says the health care system – along with the country and every other region of the world – was struggling to figure out how to respond COVID- 19.

“When you look at the rest of the time period from last summer to this summer, what you can see is systems adapted to this new information,” she said.

“They figured out how to triage, figure out how to turn the tables and really turn things around. And you can see that different provinces are able to speed up their surgeries, fast or slow.” Were, it depends on what their system was like.”

For example, Ontario saw a 76 percent drop in surgeries in April 2020 from a year earlier, the sharpest decline of any province or territory in that difficult month.

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This may explain why Ontario took an additional two months to recover that lost ground: while all other jurisdictions were able to return to relatively normal levels by June compared to 2019, it was not until September that the country The state’s most populous province climbed within five percent of 2019’s level.

The effects of second and third waves, which hit different provinces and territories at different times, are also reflected in the data. For example, Manitoba’s health care system was tough in November and December last year, cutting surgeries by nearly a third compared to 2019, while other provinces remained relatively stable.

Not all types of surgery had an effect to the same degree. The report found cardiac and cancer surgeries experienced a decline of nearly a third in April and May 2020, largely staying at previous levels.

Other procedures, such as knee, back and eye surgeries, declined by up to 87 percent in the same period before rebounding.

The report found that fewer people were coming to the hospital in general as doctors and other health care workers adapted to providing virtual care to patients as a way of reducing stress on the system. On average, CIHI found that there were 9,300 fewer hospital visits per day across the country compared to 2019.

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In the five provinces that were able to provide the data — Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — virtual care visits by phone or online climbed between 27 and 57 percent on average, with BC seeing the most virtual visits overall.

Johnson says such solutions will play a big role in how the system responds to backlogs and other challenges brought on by the pandemic – although it still may not be enough.

“There will still be a need for overtime, holiday work, weekend work, evenings,” she said. “The big challenge is finding people who want to work for so long and who can help us get out of that backlog.”

The report said the full impact of delayed or canceled surgeries on patients and health care workers is yet to be fully seen – for example, how many patients have debilitating health problems as a result of missing their procedures. Or would have even experienced death.

Johnson says CIHI hopes the data provided will help the health care system learn from past waves of the pandemic and prepare itself for future waves, while also recovering from backlogs and other impacts .

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The surgery backlog across the country has drawn dire warnings from provincial health experts, forcing governments to make tough choices.

Doctor Manitoba, representing more than 4,000 physicians, estimated earlier this week that the backlog for surgeries and tests had risen to a record 152,000 cases. The Manitoba government said on Wednesday that some patients may need to be sent to other provinces to help ease tensions.

Modeling has suggested that Saskatchewan’s health care system will not return to sustainable levels until mid-January.

Rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of the country, meanwhile – amid fears of the new Omicron edition, with other provinces such as Ontario warning this week to scale back surgeries to make room for an anticipated surge in patients can go.

-With files from Canadian Press

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