Elective surgeries affected by COVID-19 hospitalizations, say B.C. health officials

A number of elective surgeries in B.C. are being impacted because the province is reassigning a handful of nurses to COVID-19 care, Health Minister Adrian Dix revealed Monday.

It’s the first time that elective surgeries have been affected in B.C. since the province relaunched its elective surgical rooms in May of 2020, Dix said during a news conference.

The pandemic has put enormous stress and pressure on B.C.’s health-care system, and to respond to a recent influx of COVID-19 hospitalizations, some staff are being pulled away from surgery rooms in Surrey, Vancouver and New Westminster to assist in caring for coronavirus patients.

"I'm not surprised nurses need to be redeployed in this stage of the pandemic," said Christine Sorensen, president of the BC Nurses Union.

She said they've been anticipating for this day to come, adding the extra help will provide short-term relief for those units facing added pressure.

"What I'm hearing from nurses from around the province is that it's been particular difficult year for them. They are an exhausted workforce right now; they're incredibly dedicated, committed to patient care, but the reality is there's just not enough of them," she said.

By moving the nurses to other areas of need, it is causing a ripple effect. 

“The recent growth in cases is a real impact on health care workers and for the first time beginning to impact our effort to ensure individuals received needed scheduled surgeries since we relaunched the surgical...plan in May,” Dix said.

However, Dix did not say specifically whether that means these select surgeries have been cancelled or rescheduled.

“The critical care occupancy and need to redeploy is impacting surgical slates, ” he said.

Within Fraser Health, eight critical care nurses have been “redeployed,” effectively shutting down a total of five operating room “slates” in the health region. A slate, said Dix, is a 7.5 hour window during which surgeries are performed. A typical operating room slate will complete anywhere from 4 to 23 surgeries, depending on the complexity of the procedure.

Two slates in Surrey are being cancelled, along with two in Abbotsford and one in New Westminster, Dix said.

Within the Vancouver Coastal Health authority, about eight surgeries were affected on Monday due to high hospital occupancy, he said. 

However, Dix cautioned against panic, and said he doesn’t think that widespread cancellations will be necessary.

“This will not be like last year where we cancel, en masse, our scheduled surgeries but will be targeted and for as short a period as possible,” he said.

“However this is a real reminder to all of us how important it is to keep focused on public health orders.”

This is a developing story, check back for updates.