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Surgery wait list could take 12 to 18 months to work through

When the first wave of COVID ended in Nova Scotia, there were 3,214 people on the wait list for a procedure
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When surgeries ramped up starting on May 25, there were 3,214 Nova Scotians on the wait list for a procedure.

Dr. Greg Hirsch, director of surgery at the QEII Health Sciences Centre and the NSHA, says that over the past few weeks 40 per cent of those have been completed and another 12 per cent scheduled.

“We’re working back through that backlog and as things have eased off and we’ve opened up we’re trying to get back to 100 or even over 100 per cent of what we were doing in 2019,” he tells NEWS 95.7’s The Todd Veinotte Show.

Hirsch says that hospitals have only been filling beds at 50 per cent capacity to allow for social distancing and for an increase in COVID patients if a second wave occurs in the province.

“We don’t make that up for ourselves, we wait to hear from government and public health on those and they’ve so well informed us through this whole pandemic we don’t have an issue with that,” he explains.

But despite that, they’ve gotten many priority surgeries done and are also working through a wait list for day surgeries where patients don’t need an inpatient or ICU bed.

“Folks did a really nice job creating triage plans and making sure people who would suffer a setback in their overall outcome or even potentially face death kept getting done,” says Hirsch.

But the doctor says there’s a yet-to-be-seen wait list of patients who will need surgeries, those who didn’t consult their family doctors during the pandemic’s first wave and have untreated health issues that need addressed.

“People didn’t come through the queue to appear on the list. And we imagine that there’s going to be a surge of those cases as things have opened up and offices and professionals are seeing [patients],” says Hirsch. He thinks that group of people could total between 10,000 and 12,000.

But until surgeons know for sure how many untreated patients will appear, they are keeping empty beds. Thankfully, Hirsch says the NSHA’s data analysts have been working to create plans for how to get through the wait list.

“I were the chief at a particular hospital or the senior administrator at a particular hospital I can see my bed capacity, I can see the wait list by urgency for every discipline in my hospital, and I can see what I’ve got in terms of healthcare professional capacity,” Hirsch says.

As a whole, the NSHA is at 72 per cent of surgery capacity compared to 2019, as of June 28. And they’re still opening more hospitals up. “We’re just bringing some hospitals online again, like Northside General, Glace Bay and the Eastern Zone. And so they’re going to start slow until they ramp up, for a week or two,” says Hirsch.

But the slow return to normal doesn’t mean reducing the wait list will be an easy feat. If those 12,000 extra patients appear, Hirsch says it may take up to a year and a half to work through the wait list.

“I think that as an organization, as NSHA and as individual surgeons, and I know a bunch of them and anesthesiologists and OR nurses and ICU nurses, we’re deeply concerned for our patients,” he says. “We’re willing to put our shoulder to the wheel and work that extra bit. I think we can work the deficit off in some time frame line 12 to 18 months.”


Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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