Hospitals across the province are carefully beginning to increase surgical capacity, providing additional access for patients whose procedures have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Patient safety and avoiding negative outcomes for patients whose procedures have been delayed by COVID-19 are top priorities for our government,” said Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson. “With COVID-related hospitalization numbers stabilizing, we are acting on the advice of our clinical experts to take this opportunity to provide access for patients whose conditions have become more urgent during the surgical slowdown caused by the pandemic.”

Approximately 60 additional surgeries will be added each week across four Winnipeg sites, with increases also expected to be made to surgical slates in rural and northern health-care facilities over the coming weeks. Surgical capacity will be reviewed week by week, with careful consideration of additional increases alongside ongoing analysis of COVID-19 case activity, anticipated hospitalization and the associated staffing needs in medicine and critical care.

The increased capacity will be focused on areas of significant backlog and where long wait-lists have developed during the COVID-19 surgical slow-downs, including orthopedic and retinal procedures, as well as vascular, renal, ear nose and throat and other now-urgent general surgeries.

“We must begin to carefully increase access to surgery to meet the needs of patients whose procedures can no longer be delayed,” said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer, Shared Health. “This will be a slow and gradual increase while we continue to monitor COVID-19 activity and the staffing demands that remain across medicine and critical care.”

The additional surgeries will be performed at Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg (HSC), Misericordia Health Centre, Pan Am Clinic and Concordia Hospital. Surgery and endoscopies are also expected to begin as soon as this coming week in Swan River, Dauphin, Neepawa, Minnedosa and Brandon, while planning is ongoing for increased surgery at facilities located in the Northern Health Region and the Southern Health-Santé Sud health region.

Emergency, urgent and trauma surgeries have continued to be performed throughout the pandemic, added Siragusa. However, thousands of non-urgent and elective surgeries have had to be postponed, with surgical teams carefully assessing and monitoring each patient’s ability to wait for a period ranging from several weeks to several months.

Surgeries are being scheduled for the most urgent cases first, with consideration also being given to length of patient wait. All necessary precautions, including pre-operative testing and appropriate personal protective equipment for all members of the care team, will be taken to protect staff and patients from the risk of COVID-19.

Affected staff have been notified and schedules are being completed. Patients will be contacted directly according to the clinical priority of the care they need and will have their surgery scheduled.