Since the B.C. government began allowing clinics to perform surgeries once again starting on May 18th, Interior Health (IH) said it is making some headway in the backlog of patients awaiting their appointments.

“Across Interior Health, 16 facilities are delivering scheduled surgeries in addition to emergency and urgent procedures. Interior Health has a contract with one private facility to deliver surgeries, and that site is also now running at full contracted capacity,” said Interior Health.

The B.C. Government put all non-urgent surgeries on hold starting on March 16th to allow clinics to focus efforts on COVID-19 patients.

IH said it began calling patients to arrange for appointments in early May, and has since reached out to 7,303 people. It added that between May 18th and June 7th, 2,018 scheduled and 777 unscheduled surgeries have been completed, for a total of 2,795 procedures.

“The first phase of the surgery renewal is focused on patients needing urgent surgeries: patients whose operations must occur in fewer than four weeks; patients who have had their surgery postponed; and patients who have waited longer than twice their accepted clinical wait time benchmarks. Surgeries that can be safely conducted as day procedures or outside of the main operating room, such as cataract surgeries, are also part of this first phase,” explained IH.

The health authority added that delays caused by the pandemic have put many clinics behind schedule for those waiting for dental, hip, knee and other surgeries. IH said it will addressing patients based on urgency, prior postponement and waiting time, as it aims to restore timely access to all surgeries.

“Part of our surgery renewal commitment to patients means that over the summer we’ll be identifying and implementing strategies to increase operating room hours with the goal to support more procedures. This will take creativity and new thinking,” said IH. “With these efforts, we believe we can keep up with ongoing and new demands for surgery and, over the next 17 to 24 months, complete the surgeries that were postponed due to COVID-19 in March, April and May.”

However, the timeline for Interior Health’s surgery schedule is volatile given the current public health crisis.

“It’s a demanding timeline, and we need to recognize that surgery renewal is highly vulnerable to external forces, such as the second wave of COVID-19 this fall that Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and health officials around the world have indicated could happen. Subsequent waves or surges in new COVID-19 cases may impact our hospitals and the number of surgeries that can be safely performed. Even as we are resuming surgeries now, we are also preparing for the potential challenges ahead,” said IH.

Residents are asked to adhere to public health advice to help limit the spread of the illness, and therefore help Interior Health and other health authorities get back on schedule with its backlog of surgeries.