Surgical backlog affected by COVID-19 close to 12,000 cases at Hamilton hospitals

Hamilton’s two hospitals are estimating their combined surgical backlog, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, is somewhere near 12,000 cases and could take a while to clear, according to officials from both agencies.

Procedures at the top of the list being deferred include joint and shoulder replacements, as well as cataract and plastic surgeries.

Only time-sensitive and serious issues, like cancer surgeries or emergency surgeries, have not been and are not being delayed.

Read more: Increased vaccinations, ongoing health measures could mean 600 fewer COVID-19 cases in Hamilton

St. Joseph’s Hamilton Healthcare (SJHH) says their cases are around 5,800 as of Wednesday morning, while Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says their pileup of non-urgent/non-emergent surgeries is at about 5,900 as of the end of June.

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“The teams will look for every opportunity to catch up on our surgical activity, dependent on resources,” spokesperson Wendy Stewart told Global News.

“The process will be phased and gradual, and in concert with Ontario Health West and regional partners.”

HHS says 82 per cent of their surgical volume and 74 per cent of all surgeries, including procedures performed out of the main operating rooms, have returned.

Neurosurgery, spine and cardiac surgery are also surgeries being ramped up by the hospitals, however bed pressures are creating a much slower transition Hamilton General.

Combined, there are still 21 COVID-19 patients at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) and St. Joe’s.

HHS had 10 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday, with just two in intensive care units. St. Joe’s has seen 11 COVID-19 cases, 10 in ICUs.

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The longest wait list is for orthopedics (hip, knee) as well as hernias and hysterectomies.

Oncology wait lists are one of the lowest in the backlog.

“We know how hard the delay has been for people who are waiting for surgery,” chief of surgery at St. Joseph`s Healthcare, Dr. Anthony Adili told Global News.

Read more: The Lambda COVID-19 variant is in Canada. How worried should we be?

“St. Joe’s is working on a number of strategies including extended operating hours, weekend surgeries and shorter hospital stays to help us move through the backlog as quickly as we can.”

Ontario’s fiscal watchdog predicted a backlog of cancelled surgeries would reach 419,200 by the end of September and potentially take the province about three and a half years to clear.

The Financial Accountability Office (FAO) also suggest it will cost the province $1.3 billion to clear cases.

Over $610 million has already been committed by the Ford government through its last budget to address the issue.

In its timeline, the FAO is already assuming hospitals will be able to operate at 11 per cent above pre-pandemic volumes in the next few years.


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