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Opinion: Surgery renewal for Northerners

The University Hospital of Northern British Columbia. (via Hanna Petersen)

The following column was submitted to PrinceGeorgeMatters from Colleen Nyce, Board Chair for the Northern Health Authority.

With the resumption of non-urgent scheduled surgeries on May 18, the surgery renewal announced by the Minister of Health on May 7 is well underway in Northern Health.

Postponing surgeries in March was necessary to ensure hospitals had the capacity to respond to COVID-19, but as restrictions are being reduced we are rescheduling postponed surgeries.

Between May 18 and June 14, we called 2,639 patients to ask if they wished to continue with their surgery and we completed 1,083 scheduled and unscheduled surgeries. All of Northern Health’s sites providing surgical services are now operating near full capacity.

In addition, Northern Health is working with the private surgical centre in Prince George to increase the number of surgeries provided at that centre.

Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we’re continuing to learn and adapt to enable patients to get the surgeries they need. Every day, hospitals are reviewing operating room and hospital bed capacity to prioritize urgent cases, including urgent oncology and emergency cases.

The priority is urgent surgeries — patients who require their surgery in less than four weeks; patients who have had their surgery postponed; and, patients who have waited more than twice the clinically recommended time.

We’re also focused on patients whose surgeries, like cataract surgeries, can safely be conducted as day procedures.

Although surgical renewal is moving forward, we know there were already patients waiting for the dental, hip, knee and other surgeries that we had hoped to provide over the last three months.

The COVID-19 situation has further extended the surgical wait time, which we understand is very difficult for patients and their surgeons. 

At this time, we will be addressing patient needs based on urgency, prior postponement, and time waiting for surgery. As elective surgeries are restarted, we are committed to restoring timely access to all surgeries. 

These changes will continue throughout the summer, fall, and beyond to help us meet the needs of patients whose surgeries have been delayed by COVID-19 as well as keep up with the new demands for surgery over the next 17 to 24 months. Northern Health is grateful for a committed and dedicated group of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, and support staff who make this progress possible, particularly given the ongoing need to manage the COVID-19 situation.

Northern Health is committed to these surgical priorities but it is important to remember that the restart of elective surgeries remains highly vulnerable to the pandemic context. As Dr. Henry, Provincial Health Officer, has indicated, we are likely to experience a second wave of COVID-19 this fall. That, or a surge in new cases over the summer, may disrupt the number of surgeries that can be safely performed.

That’s where each one of us can make a difference. 

We must stay committed to using the practices that stop the spread of COVID-19 – including physical distancing, staying home when we are not feeling well, washing hands and coughing etiquette. 

In Northern Health’s COVID-19 effort and surgery renewal commitment, we are dependent on each other — to stand apart and work together.