Calling it an “ambitious plan” that “puts patients in BC at the centre,” the provincial government unveiled its plan for resuming surgeries on Thursday morning.
“British Columbians have stepped up to the challenge of COVID-19 by making sacrifices, including thousands of people who have waited for postponed elective surgeries,” said BC Premier John Horgan. “This has been very difficult for people and their families.”
However, it’s these sacrifices that “have helped flatten the curve in BC, and now we can move forward, safely, getting people the surgeries they’ve been waiting for,” he added.
Beginning this month, the province will launch what it said is an “extensive” surgical renewal plan that will include calling patients, adding new capacity, and hiring and training staff.
“On March 16, we made the difficult decision to postpone surgeries to prepare our health-care system for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “Our commitment is now to get patients through their surgery safely.”
He admitted this is a “massive undertaking, but we are giving the same 100% effort to the task that we’ve made to flattening the curve in BC.”
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By May 18, an estimated 30,000 non-urgent scheduled surgeries will have either been postponed or left on a waitlist due to the coronavirus. A further 24,000 patients could also be without a referral to a waitlist.
In its plan, the province said that if all the strategies are implemented, recovery of all these cases could take up to between 17 and 24 months.
As part of its announcement, the province also unveiled a dated timeline for its plan:
- May 7 to 15: patient outreach, pre-operative screening, implementation planning;
- May 18: surgical services begin, increasing capacity over four weeks to near normal pre-COVID levels;
- May 31: all private contracted facilities working at maximum available capacity
- June: begin recruitment and training of new staff;
- June 15: all existing operating rooms running at full available capacity;
- June 15 to October 15: incrementally bringing on additional capacity through extending daily hours of operation, adding Saturdays and Sundays to the schedule; and opening new operating rooms where available;
- July: Ministry of Health first monthly progress report on surgery renewal;
- July to August: optimize capacity over the summer period.
It noted, however, that “this timeline is highly vulnerable to external forces including future slow downs or losses in productivity due to additional COVID-19 surges,” something that Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry admitted was possible.
“The short answer is, we don’t really know,” she said. “We don’t know yet, whether there’s going to be a second wave, when it will occur, how big it will occur.”
What health officials do know, she said, “is we’re likely to see influenza again in the fall… so we are thinking about that, about what can we do to minimize influenza, and part of our job in public health is to make sure that we have the testing, the contact tracing, and ability to monitor that we need to do to follow COVID-19 as we go through the summer and into the fall.”
The province said that for every 10% of non-urgent cases not addressed each month, “it extends the timeline by up to half a month.”
More to come…