As the second wave of COVID-19 continues to taper off in Alberta, the province is setting its sights on reducing wait times for surgeries that were cancelled and postponed in the early days of the pandemic.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Friday that the province is aiming to perform 55,000 additional scheduled surgeries this year, on top of the 29,000 operations done in a typical year.
“We’re going to eliminate the backlog this year and press on toward the goal of the Alberta Surgical Initiative — to provide all scheduled surgeries within clinically acceptable times by 2023,” he said.
“We know what we want our wait times to be. We know how many Albertans there are, we know the procedures there are going to be for every surgery in a given year and how they’re going to increase over the next few years and in the coming decade.”
At the height of the first wave of the virus, when hundreds of people were being treated in hospital, Alberta surgeons were performing roughly 60 per cent fewer operations than normal. It’s estimated 25,000 surgeries were cancelled between March 18 and May 4, 2020.
According to AHS vice-president and chief medical officer Dr. Francois Belanger, the majority of that surgical backlog from the spring has been cleared, and surgeries are back to about 89 per cent of pre-COVID levels.
The province plans to rely on five dedicated hospital units across Alberta — located in Banff, Edson, Innisfail, Peace River and Edmonton — as well as partnerships with chartered surgical facilities. The additional surgeries are set to get underway starting April 1.
At the surgical units in hospitals, Shandro said more operations will be scheduled in the evenings and on weekends. He said other hospitals across Alberta will also offer more surgeries “depending on their COVID situation.”
“By allowing these five sites to focus on scheduled surgeries right now, we are reducing future postponements and decreasing the impact that COVID might have on patients,” he said.
Shandro asked patients and families for patience and understanding if they’re faced with a situation where they have to travel for an operation.
The province said right now, chartered facilities provide about 40,000 operations a year to Albertans, free of charge. It’s hoped that by 2023, up to 90,000 surgeries will be done at those facilities.
“These facilities have capacity in their operating rooms and can easily and safely offer more surgeries like cataract removals to reduce wait times,” Shandro said.
Two requests for proposals, which are the same ones that were set to be released in the fall but were delayed and then adjusted due to COVID-19, will be posted this spring for facilities which will provide orthopedic and ophthalmology surgeries.
Shandro said it’s hoped that in the next year, a total of 345,000 surgeries will be performed in Alberta.