As part of its efforts to catch up with the backlog of surgical procedures that was created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Provincial Government has provided an update on the progress it has been making.

On March 16th, the Province put all non-urgent surgeries on hiatus, allowing clinics to focus efforts on COVID-19 patients.

In early May, health authorities began getting into contact with patients to reschedule appointments, and surgical procedures began once again on May 18th.

So far, 62,700 patients around the province have been contacted to reschedule their surgeries.

Since operations began once again, the B.C. Government said it would ramp up its efforts to get back on track, and on Tuesday, it provided an update as to how far it has gotten. The reporting period covers May 18th to June 25th.

According to Michael Marchbank, former president and CEO of Fraser Health Authority, and consultant to the Ministry of Health, the waitlist has grown by 7,900 cases between mid-March to mid-May, with more expected to be added.

“Prior to COVID-19, the waitlist was at 93,164, and today, at the end of this reporting period in June, it’s at 95,216,” said Marchbank. “We performed 32,400 fewer surgeries than expected. The length of the surgeries increased by 26%. Although we added 7,900 patients, a further 24,400 people will still have to be scheduled.”

In the Tuesday briefing, Marchbank spoke of working towards making the health care system more efficient to address the missed cases and bring down the backlog COVID-19 has created.

“Recovering lost cases is heavily dependant on our efficiency at our new capacity and having sufficient resources, nurses, physicians and beds to accommodate the increased case volumes and other challenges that may arise. The one thing with COVID-19 is that we can’t predict the future, so we have to retain that flexibility,” explained Marchbank.

Efforts have been focused on urgent cases that need to have procedures done within four weeks, which Marchbank said is mostly cancer, cardiac and neurosurgery. Patients who have had appointments postponed and those waiting more than twice their clinical benchmark are also being prioritized.

According to Marchbank, between May and June, 52% of the people who have has their surgeries postponed, have been able to get in for appointments.

To help increase capacity for surgeries, operating hours in clinics have been extended, and more staff is being hired around the province. Marchbank said that 29 new anesthetists have been hired throughout B.C. since April 1st, with nursing staff also getting a boost over the same time frame.

“760 new graduate RNs (registered nurses) from nursing schools have been hired by the health authorities across B.C.,” said Marchbank. “Thay’s just about half the graduating class, and recruitment is still continuing.”

Marchbank feels that B.C. has made good progress overall, but there will be challenges in the road ahead.

“I sincerely hope we are able to meet this commitment, and I know everybody in the system wants to do what is right for our patients,” said Marchbank.