Coronavirus: Saskatchewan surgery backlog to be handled by end of November

The last 10 per cent of surgeries postponed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic should be scheduled or completed by the end of November, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

The authority began postponing non-emergent medical procedures in March to ease the potential burden on the health system that COVID-19 was anticipated to cause.

In April 2020, the SHA carried out 2,163 surgeries, compared to 7,451 in April 2019.

Read more: Saskatchewan election tracker 2020: Here’s what the parties are promising

“As the data demonstrates, there has been a reduction in the volume of surgeries performed, which would be attributed to COVID-19,” health authority spokesperson Lisa Thomson said in an email.

As of Wednesday, Thomson said 90 per cent of postponed surgeries had been completed or scheduled. All types of surgeries have resumed in Saskatchewan.

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Shauna Meek’s partial thyroidectomy was originally booked for late April at Battlefords Union Hospital. Over five years, a tumour had developed on her thyroid.

She was less troubled by the growth in her neck than she was about COVID-19.

“I really didn’t want to be in a hospital if there were cases in there,” Meek said.

Staff rescheduled her appointment for early July. Subsequent analysis determined the tumour was cancerous. Her next surgery, scheduled in August, went ahead without a delay and removed the thyroid entirely.

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There has been no sign of the cancer spreading, Meek said. She doesn’t take issue with her procedure being delayed.

“I knew that there were other people out there whose cases were a lot more urgent than mine and that they needed to fill the very precious slots for surgery that were out there,” Meek said.

Surgery rates rose in June with 4,465 completed, though that is far fewer than the 7,656 performed in June 2019.

Following the first wave of the virus, Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 hospitalizations remain well below the SHA’s projections.

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Health policy consultant Dr. Dennis Kendel credited numerous factors, including a less dense population and lower infection rates in long-term care.

“Our demand (on hospitals) wasn’t quite as strong in Saskatchewan as some other parts of Canada and our system did quite well actually,” Kendel said.

COVID-19’s effect on the health system has emerged as one of the early issues during Saskatchewan’s provincial election campaign.

Read more: 3,075 coronavirus deaths forecast for Saskatchewan in low-range scenario: SHA

Both NDP Leader Ryan Meili and Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe acknowledge more work is needed in health care, including when it comes to wait times.

Meili has accused the Sask Party of attempting to privatize health care through a two-tier system. The NDP is seeking to repeal the province’s legislation allowing a one-for-one system requiring private operators to give a free scan to patients on the public wait list for every paid MRI.

He wants to see more staff added to front lines.

“Privatizing the health care system … just lengthens the wait times in the public system and makes it less fair,” Meili told Global News on Friday.

The Sask Party has contended that since their introduction in 2016, one-for-one MRIs have helped reduce waiting lists.

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On Wednesday, Moe said surgical wait times are a nationwide problem.

“We are going to require further investment in the years ahead to ensure we can gain back some of our time with respect to our surgical wait times,” Moe said.

Saskatchewan voters head to the polls on Oct. 26.

— With files from Tyler Marr and Mickey Djuric

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