COVID patient numbers dwindling but no catch-up on Quebec elective surgeries until fall

Despite a drastic reduction in the number of COVID-19 patients in Quebec hospitals, a backlog of 150,000 elective surgeries likely won't start to be performed until fall, as the government said healthcare workers need a sorely deserved break.

The ongoing delay, however, is leaving many frustrated.

Gina Vincelli is among them; she needs her knee surgery badly after years of growing pain. Now, she can barely walk, but her surgeon had to postpone the procedure because of the pandemic.

"I was supposed to have it done in June, 2020, and I didn't. I didn't get a call obviously," she said. “I've been waiting to get this done and now it's just getting worse. I should have had it almost two years ago”

When COVID-19 hit last year, tens of thousands of elective surgeries were cancelled or postponed, so nursing staff and hospitals could focus on patients with the virus. But with COVID wards slowly emptying, Health Minister Christian Dube announced this week that the surgeries wouldn't resume before September so medical staff can take a well-deserved vacation. It's a risky proposition, according to patients advocates Paul Brunet.

“Doctors say we might lose patients because we are shoveling (cases) in front of us,” said he said.

There are currently 150,000 Quebecers currently waiting for elective surgery, including everything from cataracts, to hip replacement. Emergency surgeries are still being performed, however.

The waiting list was already up to 100,000 patients before the pandemic hit and 50,000 more were added to the list in the past year as staff had to be reassigned to other pandemic-related duties. Doctors say the government is too optimistic when it claims that emergency surgeries are always taken care of first.

“Most of the surgeons in Montreal and in Quebec would appreciate having an increase in elective surgery because they are suffering,” said Stanley Volant, a general surgeon at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital. “I have patients that are waiting for gall bladder surgery, hernias, bowel surgery and they are waiting a long time. Often they have to come to the emergency and have their emergency done on an urgent basis.”

Vincelli's said her health worsened while she was on the waiting list and she has since been diagnosed with breast cancer. She said she didn't have to wait for surgery connected to her cancer.

“I found out on a Monday. I had surgery within two weeks,” she said.  

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