Postponing non-emergency surgeries can have negative consequences, finds studies

WINNIPEG — Postponing non-emergency surgeries is an option for hospitals if staff and beds are needed for COVID-19 patients, but it is not without its side effects.

Now, two new studies out of the University of Manitoba show the negative effects of surgical postponements.

Using Statistics Canada data, the first study found between 2005 and 2014, 15.6 per cent of people requiring a past-year non-emergency surgery experienced difficulties accessing their surgical care, including long waits.

The second study found in that same timeframe, 11.8 per cent of people experienced a surgical cancellation or postponement.

The most common impact people reported from these waits was pain, but more than one in 10 experienced increased worry, stress, and anxiety.

“We think that this research is timely because of COVID we’re seeing huge numbers of surgeries that were and continue to be cancelled or postponed,” said Dr. Renée El-Gabalawy, the study’s senior author.

Doctors Manitoba said this spring, 7,000 surgeries were cancelled due to COVID-19.

“The new surgery contracts announced over the summer by Manitoba Health will help, but more surgical capacity will be needed to catch up and reduce wait times for patients,” a spokesperson told CTV News Winnipeg.

A Shared Health spokesperson said, as of Oct.18, the backlog of surgeries is at 4,993 at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Health Sciences Centre.

THE REAL-LIFE IMPACT

Walker Nepinak was a little over a year old right before COVID-19 hit Manitoba in March.

His mom Lee-Anne Hubbard said Walker was getting ear infections all the time, so he was sent for a hearing test.

“Basically it was like he was always underwater, so that’s all he would hear,” she said.

The family booked surgery to help his ears drain, but then elective and non-emergency surgeries in Manitoba were postponed due to COVID-19 — including Walker’s.

“That was the only reason there was, and his hearing was progressively getting worse and his speech was really delayed,” Hubbard said.

After four postponements, Walker got his surgery on Oct. 2nd, ending the pain that came with his ear infections and the need for antibiotics.

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