The Ontario government is developing a comprehensive framework to help hospitals assess their readiness to gradually start scheduling elective surgeries while maintaining capacity to respond to COVID-19.
On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford said that the pandemic has posed a “threat to our healthcare system and could have quickly turned into an absolute disaster for our hospitals.”
But, he noted that “thanks to our best efforts, this has not happened here in Ontario.”
The framework, A Measured Approach to Planning for Surgeries and Procedures During the COVID-19 Pandemic, contains criteria that must be met before hospitals can resume scheduled surgeries.
The criteria include: a stable number of COVID-19 cases; a stable supply of personal protective equipment; a stable supply of medications; an adequate capacity of inpatient and intensive care unit beds; an adequate capacity of health human resources; and the availability of post-acute care outside the hospital that would be required to support patients after discharge.
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Ford said that the option to resume non-COVID cases can be contemplated now, after hospitals did not experience the surge of cases initially projected.
At the start of the pandemic the province stopped surgeries and procedures, freeing up over 5,000 acute care beds.
“We knew we had to be prepared for any surge,” Ford said. “But our planning has paid off as we’ve worked to flatten the curve.”
According the province, these criteria will ensure hospitals take a “measured and responsible” approach that prioritizes the health and safety of patients and healthcare workers, while maintaining plans to support long-term care homes in their region.
As a first step, hospitals will need to assess if there is adequate staffing, equipment and other resources to resume scheduled care.
This assessment will be revisited on a weekly basis to reflect changing needs and requirements, including responding to any COVID-19 surges that may occur locally, the province said.
The framework also sets out the criteria for prioritizing surgeries such as: a patient’s condition; the type of procedure a patient requires and whether options for non-operative treatments exist; the associated risks of delaying a patient’s surgery; and the resources required in terms of personal protective equipment, medications, intensive care unit beds, and other care requirements needed after an operation.