There are major pressures on Alberta’s health-care system as a result of increasing COVID-19 cases.
According to Alberta Health Services (AHS), roughly 30 per cent of scheduled, non-emergency surgeries and some ambulatory care clinic visits have been postponed in the Edmonton Zone.
Roughly 235 surgeries were delayed from late October through to Nov. 2 and 95 per week have been postponed since then.
That also includes about 12 surgeries per week at the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
“Postponing surgeries is a necessary step to ensure the healthcare system can sustain its pandemic response and be able to respond to emergencies,” AHS said in an email to Global News.
“The decision was made to ensure AHS has the staff, equipment and beds available for the increased demand caused by COVID-19.
“It allows frontline teams to be redeployed to other areas to meet demand and ease pressure points.”
To help reduce the strain, AHS initiated surge capacity measures last month.
That means, in part, cutting back on scheduled or elective surgeries that may need an overnight hospital stay.
“AHS is able to increase the amount of hospital spaces available to patients with COVID if they reduce the number of other patients in hospital,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday.
“There are consequences to these measures, in delayed access to non-COVID care.”
Effects of COVID-19 on hospital care services
A report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released Thursday indicates, nationally, from March to June 2020, overall surgery numbers fell 47 per cent compared to 2019.
That’s about 335,000 fewer surgeries.
Cancellations of planned surgeries varied according to urgency. Life-saving and urgent procedures declined the least — down by between 17 and 21 per cent.
“Procedures in this category included pacemaker insertions, bypass surgeries, cancer surgeries and fracture repairs,” the report reads.
Surgeries for less-urgent conditions like rhinoplasties and vasectomies saw up to an 80 per cent decrease.
According to the CIHI report, April saw the lowest number of surgeries — a major factor in the 36 per cent decrease in hospital admissions, which eventually rebounded to 75 per cent of 2019 levels by June.
Effects of delaying surgeries
University of Toronto bioethicist, Kerry Bowman, said it’s difficult to fully understand the effects of postponing thousands of surgeries.
“There’s the physical, there’s the psychological and the incredible stress this will put on individuals and families — it’s very hard to measure,” he said.
“With things like cancer detection, cancer intervention, cancer surgery… the implications can be very serious.”
Bowman said right now it’s a balancing act between medical and human need.
“Even if you’re treating people for COVID — how long are you treating them for as compared to how many people you’re pushing off? It’s ethically extremely problematic.”
Ultimately, he said, it’s hard to tell how long it’s going to take to resolve.
“You delay a screening procedure, you delay this, you delay that — you’d almost have to research every one of these cases to fully see how this is going to play out over time,” Bowman explained.
Hindsight, according to Bowman, is going to be painful.
“I’m kind of horrified that there’s going to be books and studies and reports coming out in 2023, looking at the decisions we made and how many mistakes we made,” he said.
“But it’s still very hard right in the moment to make good decisions about this.”
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