The province is ramping up to reopen operating rooms to a backlog of 30,000 elective surgeries that were cancelled to clear hospital beds for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients, including those whose surgeries were cancelled at Lions Gate Hospital.
Vancouver Coast Health said patients whose surgeries were cancelled at Lions Gate will be getting called soon by their surgeons to begin rescheduling.
Some of the rescheduled surgeries will happen at Lions Gate while others may be moved to other facilities, including private health-care clinics.
“Vancouver Coastal Health has been looking at how they can safely restart at least some of the surgeries at Lions Gate,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer on Saturday.
The plan to restart surgeries at both Lions Gate and Richmond hospitals may be “slightly different from the rest” said Henry, because of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks in those hospitals.
“They may not be able to do every single type of surgery and manage the outbreak at the same time but they are absolutely looking at plans for how to do it safely,” she said.
The province plans to restart elective surgeries between May 18 and June 15.
So far there’s no indication about when the surgeries will begin at Lions Gate or whether those will start before the COVID-19 outbreak at the hospital is over.
An outbreak of COVID-19 was declared on the sixth floor east of the hospital on April 22. As of Thursday, there were 21 people – including 11 patients and 10 staff - who had tested positive for the virus in the hospital ward.
On Thursday, the province announced what Premier John Horgan called an “ambitious” plan to deal with a two-month backlog of elective surgeries. The plan includes extending operating room hours to 5 or 6 p.m., running operating rooms on weekends, continuing work at a ramped-up level during normally slower summer months and expanding the number of publicly funded surgeries performed in private health-care clinics.
In addition to the 30,000 surgeries since March, health officials estimate there could be another 24,000 surgeries that were never added to the surgical wait-lists because of halts to diagnostic and screening tests over the past two months.
Locally, there were almost 4,100 surgeries postponed in the Vancouver Coast Health region between March 16 and May 3, while 3,531 urgent and emergency surgeries were done in the region during that time.
Patients on the waiting list for surgery began getting calls late last week. The province plans to ramp up surgical capacity starting in mid-June.
Patients will be prioritized in order of urgency, said health officials, including those who have been waiting much longer than the recommended time for their surgeries.
Patients will be screened by questioning several times before surgery to determine potential risk for COVID-19. That will determine what level of personal protective equipment staff will be required to wear during surgery.
The province’s plan depends on recruiting more operating room nursing staff and getting part-time and casual nurses to take on more full-time work. It also depends on having enough surgeons and anesthesiologists to perform the surgeries.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday he is confident enough surgeons will be available to make the plan work. “They profoundly care about the success of the system,” he said. “This is their life’s work.”
Health officials believe it could still take between 17 months and two years to catch up the backlog of cancelled surgeries.
Dix said the additional cost to the health -are system is estimated at $250 million a year.
Asked whether the province made the right call in cancelling the surgeries, both Dix and Horgan defended the decision.
“It was absolutely the right call,” said Dix.