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B.C.'s surgery count tops level seen before COVID-19

Wait lists were down 10% in the November-to-February timeframe, compared with same time period in 2019-2020.
Adrian Dix podium
Health Minister Adrian Dix speaking to media

The number of urgent and non-urgent surgeries in B.C. have risen above pre-pandemic levels, according to data Health Minister Adrian Dix released March 19.

News of the resumption comes one year to the week after Dix made what he called "one of the most significant and difficult decisions that I've ever been part of," as he ordered non-essential surgeries be postponed because the COVID-19 pandemic could prompt a huge demand for hospital beds. 

He then revealed his plan on May 7 to resume those surgeries, and surgeries resumed starting May 18.

"The slowdown was not a slowdown, it was stop," Dix said of the period between March and May last year.

His move, however, resulted in a total of 32,400 fewer scheduled surgeries, representing approximately 17,400 patients who had a booked scheduled surgery date, having that surgery postponed. There were also approximately 15,373 patients who would have been scheduled for surgery but were not, due to COVID-19.

Extending weekday hours, and increasing surgeries performed on weekends helped the province not only catch up, and reduce the backlog of needed surgeries, but also to surpass the surgery volume that it saw in 2019.

Dix said some people were scheduled for surgeries at 3 a.m., and that despite that odd hour, the people appreciated the opportunity. 

"We virtually never had anyone miss an appointment at 3 a.m.," he said with a bit of a chuckle.

As of February 4, health authorities had completed 95% of these 15,373 surgeries, Dix said.

His latest progress report covered the November 13 through February 4 timeframe.

During that nearly-12-week period, 23,502 urgent scheduled surgeries were performed, which was 1,731 more than in the previous November to February time frame, Dix said. 

The wait-list size for urgent cases was reduced by 12%, compared to the previous November to February time frame, he said.

B.C. doctors performed 36,724 non-urgent surgeries. That includes 5,395 non-urgent surgeries performed for patients waiting longer than two times their target wait, which was a 36% increase compared to the previous November to February time frame, provincial data show.

B.C.'s wait list for those needing non-urgent surgeries has been reduced by 9%, compared to the previous November to February time frame, Dix said. 

The total wait-list size was reduced to 84,075, a 10% decrease compared to the previous November to February time frame, and a 16% decrease compared to the peak wait-list size on May 28, Dix said.

Operating rooms were in use for 5,246 more hours than the previous November to February time frame.

A total of 78,323 scheduled and unscheduled surgeries were completed during those months, which is 2,337 more total surgeries than in the previous November to February time frame. That includes 2,922 more scheduled surgeries, and 585 fewer unscheduled surgeries, according to provincial data.

Dix said 70 initiatives are now in place across the province to increase operating room time and capacity. This is an increase of 21 initiatives since the sixth monthly progress report, he said.

Hiring has also ramped up. 

An additional 11 surgeons were hired during the November through February time frame. 

Since April 1, 44 surgeons have been hired, Dix said.  An additional 22 anesthesiologists, and one general-practice anesthetist were also hired. Since April 1, 54 anesthesiologists and four general-practice anesthetists have been hired.

Other hires included an additional 112 perioperative registered nurses, 19 perioperative licensed practical nurses, 82 post-anesthetic recovery registered nurses and 151 medical device reprocessing technicians.

Since April 1, 410 perioperative registered nurses, 55 perioperative licensed practical nurses, 254 post-anesthetic recovery registered nurses and 346 medical device reprocessing technicians were hired, he said.

In addition, 274 surgical specialty nurses started their training, and 172 have completed their programs, Dix said. Another 96 medical-device reprocessing technologist students are in training.

Postponing surgeries, Dix said, "was absolutely the right decision. But, when we made the decision, we made a commitment to people and we weren't going to just say, 'Oh well. It's a pandemic,' but that we were going to continue, when we resumed surgeries, that we were going to deliver for them."

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