Following Wednesday’s announcement to resume non-urgent surgeries in the coming weeks, the Provincial Government has offered further clarification as to what the process involves.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic had caused B.C. health authorities to postpone or cancel non-essential surgeries, 30,298 procedures did not happen. The province said that approximately 14,000 people had their appointments postpones, and about 16,000 waitlisted people have not been scheduled.

The plan to get back on schedule will address a 30% reduction in productivity caused by the pandemic. Adrian Dix, B.C’s minister said the work that has been done by health care staff amid the crisis will continue as they make up for the drop in service in other areas.

“It has been an extraordinary effort, it has been a 100% effort. Our commitment to you is that we’re going to see the same kind of effort from the health care system to address the backlog in surgeries caused by COVID-19 in the coming months and years,” said Dix. “All patients needing surgery are at the centre of this surgical renewal. We will do this in the safest way possible for patients and providers.”

Dix added that while urgent and emergency procedures still happened, patients have felt a considerable impact at the lack of capacity. According to health authorities, about 24,000 people have not received referrals or have not been added to surgery lists.

“COVID-19 has wiped out many of the gains we have made in recent years in increasing the number of surgeries significantly,” said Dix. “It’s impossible for us to catch up without significant program changes and increased capacity.”

As surgeries are resumed, hospitals and clinics will enact enhanced screening measures to ensure patients and hospital staff are safe.

“When you get your call about your upcoming surgical date, you need to continue to self-isolate, make sure you’re not putting yourself at risk by being out in the community,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, Provincial Health Officer. “When you get that pre-anesthetic consult, there will be a screening protocol to make sure that you have not been in contact with anybody, that you don’t have any symptoms and we have a protocol in place that allows for rapid testing, should anyone have symptoms. That process will be repeated on your day of surgery so that everybody is confident that we don’t have people that are at risk.”

As hospitals prepare to resume elective surgeries, patients will be consulted, adequate bed space is being readied and more of the necessary drugs and personal protective equipment will be delivered.

Dix of health said the plan will involve five steps with the goal of tackling new surgeries on top of the backlog that has been created. The five steps include:

  • Increasing the number of surgeries.
  • Increasing essential personnel.
  • Focusing efforts on patients.
  • Adding more resources.
  • Detailed monthly progress reports.

In order to increase the capacity for surgeries, hospitals around B.C. will add more operating rooms and expand hours of service, which will include weekends. Additionally, more medical staff will be trained and recruited, including anesthesiologists, surgeons and about 400 new nurses.

As for the timeline to get back on schedule, Dix said that calling patients will take place between May 7th to 15th, with non-urgent surgeries to begin once again on May 18th. At the end of the month, private clinics will be contracted to operate at maximum capacity to help out. More training and recruiting of staff will take place in June, with the target of running all operating rooms at full capacity on June 15th. Following that, all surgical locations will look to expand capacity by adding more operating rooms and increasing hours, as mentioned earlier. However, Dix noted that the timeline is not set in stone.

“This is all dependant on avoiding resurgence of COVID-19 and we have included plans to address this, should it arise,” said Dix.