Scheduled surgeries have resumed in Interior Health and around B.C. as the province begins lifting restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Health Minister Adrian Dix, all health authorities resumed non-urgent scheduled surgeries on May 19 at 49 hospitals across the province, including Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and 15 other hospitals in Interior Health.
“We will be reporting on estimated numbers of non-urgent surgeries to be completed this week, in the coming days, along with the calls that have been made and urgent and emergent surgeries completed in the past week,” Dix said.
Interior Health is calling patients on its wait lists to determine if they are comfortable coming in for their procedures. Those who choose not to proceed will have their spot held on the waiting list.
Approximately 3,000 people in Interior Health had their scheduled surgeries postponed between March 16 and May 10, IH CEO Susan Brown said. During that time, more than 3,500 urgent and emergent surgeries were completed — roughly half the number of surgeries usually conducted during that time.
Brown did not have a breakdown of how many elective surgeries were postponed at Royal Inland Hospital specifically in that time, but noted the facility is one of two tertiary sites in IH and sees a high volume of patients.
According to a facility profile, the most common type of procedures done at RIH in 2018-2019 were knee and hip joint implants, totalling about 900 combined.
As of March 31, there were 519 people on RIH’s wait list for knee replacements (1,581 across IH), and 238 for hip replacements (875 across IH) amongst people over age 17, according to a provincial webpage tracking wait times.
Gallbladder removals on the waitlist as of March 31 totalled 61 at RIH (252 across IH), abdominal hernia repairs were at 143 (793 in IH) and eight people were awaiting treatment for bone fractures (24 across IH).
The provincial government estimates it will take up to two years to clear a backlog of 30,000 patients across B.C. whose surgeries have been cancelled or weren't scheduled because of COVID-19 pandemic health restrictions. Those patients joined or remained on an existing backlog, bringing the total waiting list to 93,000.
“We know it will take some time to get back to where we were prior to March and we really will do everything we can to address those that are living with pain as they wait on their surgery,” Brown said.
Urgent, emergent and oncology-related surgeries were not impacted by the pause in surgery and continue as priority cases.
Brown said the top priority for elective surgery resumption will be patients with with urgent needs who’ve been waiting up to a month.
To support as many people as possible, IH plans to maximize its ability to perform minor procedures that do not require an operating room, as well as day surgeries that do not require overnight stays in hospital.
Brown said IH will ramp up as much as they can safely, which may include expanded hours and hiring more staff at some sites.
She also said IH will need to monitor its inpatient capacity to ensure it can respond to any COVID-19 surge.
The province has said surgeries will be at pre-COVID-19 levels by mid-June, with all existing operating rooms running at full capacity.
Dix said many hospitals are still dealing with cases of the novel coronavirus, which is why it will take up to a month to get back to a pre-COVID level for surgeries.
Across IH, there are four active cases and one person in hospital with COVID-19. Of the health authority’s 181 cases to date, 177 (98 per cent) patients have recovered.