LHSC surgery volume at 88% of pre-pandemic levels with backlog of 6,000

London Health Sciences Centre and Children's Hospital sign, September 6, 2017. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

London Health Sciences Centre says that over the past few weeks, its surgical volume has been roughly 88 per cent of what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

As well, the hospital network says it’s working to meet or even surpass pre-pandemic levels as it faces a surgical case backlog of roughly 6,000 as of June 21. In some cases, patients had surgeries postponed as many as three times as hospitals reallocated resources to respond to the pandemic.

“This is a number based on volume comparisons to pre-pandemic times. It is very difficult to measure backlog, but that would be the best guess of a high estimate,” LHSC’s chief medical officer Dr. Adam Dukelow said Monday.

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According to Dukelow, LHSC says 11 out of 15 operating rooms at University Hospital and 14 of 17 operating rooms at Victoria Hospital are currently running, as well as two operating rooms at its Surgi-Centre.

He adds that “as the third wave continues to recede,” LHSC is focusing on recovery while also maintaining readiness in case of a surge in COVID-19 cases that require hospital care.

“The fact remains it will be a significant amount of time to fully eliminate the backlog that is occurring across the province and, frankly, the country and the world. This is truly a shared challenge across all Ontario hospitals and will likely require provincial support and solutions to speed the process up once the pandemic is over.”

In early May, Ontario’s fiscal watchdog estimated that it would take the province approximately three and a half years to clear the surgical backlog from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Financial Accountability Office says that estimate assumes hospitals will be able to operate at 11 per cent above pre-pandemic volumes in the coming years.

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Meanwhile, LHSC administration is also focusing on COVID-19 vaccination among its staff.

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So far, roughly 70 per cent of staff and physicians have had their first dose, with 30 per cent fully vaccinated, as of late last week.

Dukelow says those numbers are self-reported and he believes the true rate would be slightly higher.

“However, like every population, we likely have some vaccine hesitant folks working within our teams at LHSC so we have a multi-pronged approach to get that number higher,” Dukelow says.

LHSC launched its ongoing Get Vaxxed! campaign about a month ago and is currently working with the Middlesex-London Health Unit to bring small amounts of vaccine on site to make it more convenient for staff to get vaccinated.

“Lastly, in the coming weeks, we’ll be rolling out an enhanced attestation and education campaign for those that are vaccine hesitant, connecting employees and physicians with people that can answer their questions and ensure that they have the most up-to-date information and their concerns addressed.”

Dukelow stressed that staff continue to use PPE, or personal protective equipment, and other IPAC, or infection prevention and control, measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

LHSC is currently in the midst of an outbreak at University Hospital which Dukelow expects to be declared over within the week.

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The outbreak was declared June 13 in 8TU Transplant Unit and is believed to be linked to the Gamma variant (P.1), which was first identified in Brazil, though full sequencing is still in process. It’s linked to fewer than five patients and fewer than five staff cases.

— with files from the Canadian Press.

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