Op-ed From Fraser Health Board Chair Jim Sinclair on Surgeries

Surrey (From Fraser Health Board Chair Jim Sinclair) – On March 16th, to ensure BC hospitals had the capacity to respond to COVID-19, and to continue to provide urgent scheduled and emergency surgeries, non-urgent scheduled surgeries were postponed across BC.

Two months later, on May 18th, Fraser Health resumed the provision of scheduled surgeries.  That’s a key early step in providing the thousands of surgeries that were postponed or that had not been scheduled.

British Columbia’s surgery renewal commitment to patients is the most massive and ambitious surgical project ever attempted.  It will demand the best from all of us, and it will dramatically change how we deliver surgeries in BC.

The priority of this first phase of surgery renewal is urgent surgeries — patients whose surgeries that must occur in less than four weeks; patients who have had their surgery postponed; and, patients who have waited more than twice their targeted wait time.  We’re also focused on patients whose surgeries can safely be conducted as day procedures or outside of the main operating room.  This includes surgeries like cataract surgeries.

This patient priority temporarily moves us away from some surgeries so we can achieve the priority surgeries of the first phase.  This will include some dental and hip-and-knee surgeries.  This is difficult news for patients anticipating these surgeries, and for their surgeons, too.  But this priority focus on patients most in need is for now, not forever — as surgery renewal proceeds, we’ll be restoring full orthopaedic and dental surgeries.

With thousands of patients now contacted to determine if they’re ready to proceed with their surgeries, and in resuming those surgeries on May 18th, surgery renewal is underway.  We’re still making sure we can handle both surgery renewal and the needs of COVID-19 patients.  We’re continuing to build the teams of health professionals and health care workers we’ll need as we increase surgeries in the weeks ahead.  And we’re making sure it all comes together in the safest way possible for patients and health-care providers.

It is as complicated as it is unprecedented.  Like many things under COVID-19, we’re learning as we go and adapting to get patients the surgeries they need.  Every day, our hospitals are reviewing operating room capacity to prioritize urgent cases, including urgent cancer and emergency cases.

Our surgery facilities are running at or near full capacity.  In Fraser Health, that’s 11 facilities.  We will also fully utilize our contracted private surgery facilities.

There are even more significant changes to come.  Over the summer, we’ll add additional resources and capacity by extending daily operating room hours.  We’re adding Saturdays and Sundays to the operating schedules.  We’re opening new operating rooms, too.

It’s essential to note that the surgery renewal commitment to patients and the significant changes it requires will do much more than just get us back to the number of surgeries performed pre-COVID-19.  It will enable us to keep up with new demands for surgery and complete the surgeries lost to COVID-19 within approximately 17-24 months.

Surgery renewal is a big undertaking with a demanding timeline.  And it’s also highly vulnerable to external forces.  As Dr. Henry and health officials around the globe have indicated, we are likely to see a second wave of COVID-19 this fall.  That, or a surge in new cases over the summer will again impact our hospitals and the number of surgeries that can be safely performed.  And that’s where each one of us still has a critical job to do.

Each one of us must stay committed to using the skills that Dr. Henry and our public health leaders have taught us to stop the spread of COVID-19.

As much as surgery renewal depends on those in the operating room, it depends on us.  Nurses, doctors, and all health-care workers involved in surgery renewal are counting on us.  If we do our job, they can do theirs.  Everyone involved across the BC health-care system is 100 per cent all-in on surgery renewal.  We need to stay 100 per cent committed to stopping the spread. Continued success depends on everyone respecting social distancing and practicing good hygiene.

We have the power — each and every day — to shape our BC experience with COVID-19.  And that means each of us has the power to fulfil the surgery renewal commitment and help British Columbians get the surgeries they need.  In our BC COVID-19 effort, and our surgery renewal commitment, we are all counting on each other — to continue to stand apart and work together.

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