COVID: How it affected surgery wait times in Canada

Three years into the pandemic, surgical backlogs and waiting times are just beginning to improve, with patients significantly less likely to undergo surgery than pre-pandemic, according to new data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). I am waiting long. .

Over the course of the pandemic, approximately 937,000 fewer surgeries were performed in Canada compared to pre-pandemic rates.

About 24% of that total reduction was due to joint replacement or cataract surgery alone.

By 2022, nearly 40% of patients requiring knee or hip replacement or cataract surgery did not get the surgery within the recommended time.

The problem persists for all forms of surgery, according to a new report tracking trends in surgeries and wait times since March 2020.

And while surgeries are trending back, experts say the backlog won’t be cleared until surgeries are performed at a faster pace than before the pandemic.

“It’s encouraging that the number of surgeries in certain states is approaching pre-pandemic levels,” said Tracy Johnson, director of health systems analysis at CIHI. While this is a challenge and findings vary by state and territory, we need to exceed the pre-pandemic number of surgeries to recover and reduce the surgical backlog.”

This report compares surgery statistics recorded during the pandemic to those recorded in 2019, and how much needs to change to recover from the damage the pandemic has done to our healthcare system. I understand

When COVID surged, the volume of surgeries fell even further

The largest decline in surgeries during the pandemic occurred during the first four months of the pandemic, followed by the Delta wave in May 2021 and the Omicron wave in January 2022.

At the start of the pandemic, 173,000 fewer surgeries were performed as public health measures necessitated the cancellation of large numbers of surgeries and the closure of medical facilities to in-person patients to try to stem the transmission of the virus. bottom.

During the January 2022 Omicron wave (which was the largest surge in COVID-19 that Canada has seen throughout the pandemic), more than 77,000 surgeries were performed nationwide, down from 2019 levels. 32% less surgical change).

In the past three years, there have been only three national surges above 2019 levels: March 2021, March 2022, and June 2022.

Things get even more complicated when you look at local data.

British Columbia and Prince Edward Island only experienced a significant decline in surgeries in the first six months of the pandemic.

Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and Quebec all showed significant decreases between Delta and Omicron waves, with surgeries 18-21% lower than pre-pandemic during these waves.

Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, saw the largest decline in terms of pending surgeries, with 424,000 fewer surgeries during the pandemic compared to 2019.

British Columbia and Alberta saw 78,000 fewer surgeries during the pandemic. 48,000 surgeries were performed in Manitoba, 37,000 in Saskatchewan, 21,000 in Nova Scotia, 20,000 in New Brunswick, and 34,000 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Prince Edward Island has seen 140 fewer surgeries since March 2020.

“The decline in surgeries is the result of many factors, including the timing and impact of COVID-19 cases and the response of the health system, including cancellations of scheduled surgeries,” the report said.

Previous reports from CIHI on surgery statistics during the pandemic did not include Quebec due to limited data availability, so this is the first time data for Quebec has been included in this report as well. In Quebec alone, nearly 200,000 fewer surgeries were performed in the first 25 months of the pandemic than before the pandemic began.

The decline in surgery was affected by socioeconomic status, even across gender and age groups.

“The 31-month results also suggest that the pandemic has had a greater impact on people living in low-income areas, where surgery has declined significantly,” the report said.

Wait time is still an issue

Across the country, wait times are still long for Canadians hoping to undergo surgeries such as joint replacements and cataract surgery.

Although the number of Canadians undergoing knee replacement surgery has recovered to near pre-pandemic numbers between April and September, there will be no knee replacement within the recommended six months in 2022. Only 50% of patients nationwide were able to receive it.

The fact that wait times are still short for many, even as surgeries are picking up, is partly due to backlogs that doctors are still dealing with, according to the report.

Only 23% of knee replacement patients in New Brunswick had surgery within the recommended time in 2022, compared to 39% in 2019.

Quebec was the province with the lowest number of patients undergoing timely knee replacement compared to pre-pandemic. In 2022, only 32% of his knee replacement patients had surgery within the recommended timeframe, compared to 72% in 2019.

Ontario was able to secure timely surgery for 68% of knee replacement patients in 2022. That was the highest percentage of any other state that year, but still down from his 80% with timely surgery in 2019.

Cataract surgery probably recovers faster than joint replacement surgery because it doesn’t have to be performed in a hospital operating room, the report says.

10% fewer Canadians will undergo cataract surgery in 2022 compared to 2019 levels. Since wait times stabilized in October 2020, approximately 66% of patients have undergone cataract surgery within the recommended time.

Between April and September 2022, approximately 57% of patients awaiting hip replacement received treatment within the recommended timeframe, compared to 75% of these patients pre-pandemic .

With interactive tools on CIHI’s website, Breakdown of different surgeries and their waiting times Within the last 5 years in all states.

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