B.C. hospitals struggle with surgery backlog but leads provinces in progress: report

Click to play video: 'Provinces struggle to catch up to pandemic surgical backlog'
Provinces struggle to catch up to pandemic surgical backlog
WATCH: New data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows provinces are struggling to catch up to a surgical backlog resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. B.C., though, is performing better than other provinces – Mar 23, 2023

A new report says hospitals across the country are struggling to catch up to a backlog of surgeries that ballooned during the pandemic.

COVID-19 stretched hospital resources thin and forced the cancellation of tens of thousands of procedures.

According to the report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), B.C. is doing better than other provinces, but that’s a small consolation to waiting patients.

Kaeli McIntyre is one of those patients and she is on the clock and time is ticking — not only for her job but a more pressing issue.

McIntyre was scheduled for a polypectomy in December but it was cancelled twice before she got in for an appointment.

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“Between two surgeries, I’ve had three cancellations already,” she told Global News.

“After I did have the surgery in January, they called in February and said what we removed could be cancerous and we have to get you in for a hysterectomy in six to seven weeks at most.”

But that appointment was also cancelled, and rescheduled for April instead.

Her experience has played out for many others too, according to the report.

Over the pandemic, B.C. saw 78,000 fewer surgeries, which is down seven per cent from 2019 levels.

“This is a result of those public health measures and closures at the beginning of the pandemic, the ongoing waves of the pandemic, and now the staffing shortages that we see,” said Tracy Johnson, CIHI’s health system analytics director.

“We’ve got this accumulated backlog across the country.

“You can’t grow a nurse or a doctor overnight, so it is going to take a little bit of time for us to get out of this tough situation that we’re in.”

In March 2020, B.C. saw 28 per cent fewer surgeries compared to the same time in 2019.

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After June, B.C. started to get closer to pre-pandemic levels for several months, and even surpassing it as the province played catch up.

But in July 2022, a drop in surgeries kept going and by the end of September last year, B.C. saw nearly 25,000 fewer surgeries, according to preliminary data.

But compared to the rest of the country, B.C. is still ahead of the curve.

“We’ve increased our capacity, we’ve done more surgeries in the pandemic than we did before, significantly more,” Adrian Dix said, B.C.’s health minister.

“Working through that backlog will take some more time.”

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McIntyre is counting the days, hoping her next surgery appointment won’t be postponed again.

“I’m kind of at the point where, it’s just like, fingers crossed,” she said.

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