Tens of thousands of medical procedures have been postponed in Ontario, Canada, anticipating a novel coronavirus patient surge that has yet to come, a report from the independent Financial Accountability Office (FAO) found late last month.
Delayed heart surgeries, for example, have already resulted in around 35 deaths, a University Health Network (UHN) report states.
“A report has been released today by UHN with respect to cardiac deaths and it has been estimated that approximately 35 people may have passed away because their surgeries were not performed,” Health Minister Christine Elliott acknowledged last Tuesday, according to Toronto Star.
“Any death that happened because of COVID-19 — whether directly or indirectly — is a tragedy,” Elliott continued. “We feel for those families who’ve lost family members — whether it has been from cancer death, cardiac death or a COVID-19 death. But these were decisions that we had to make. The decisions were made by medical personnel.”
According to The Star, Elliott has stressed that decisions to delay treatments “were made by teams of doctors and other medical professionals as per pandemic plans written years ago,” adding that the health minister says she “understands it has left many patients anxious.”
“We feel for those families who have lost family members whether it has been from cancer deaths or cardiac deaths or a COVID-19 death, but these were decisions that we had to make,” she said, adding, “That’s not something any of us want to hear. It certainly was not intended. Any death is a tragedy.”
The 35 deaths are an estimate based on modeling from researchers associated with UHN and analysis of historical data and “does not report on confirmed cases or individuals,” Elliott’s office later emphasized, Toronto Star noted.
According to the outlet, the FAO report found at least 12,200 surgeries and “procedures are being postponed weekly, with the tally reaching 52,700 as of April 23 and climbing daily.”
Meanwhile, typically full hospitals are operating at around 69% capacity.
“Elective procedures are often not optional,” the FAO report said, according to The Washington Examiner. “Rather, elective procedures are not immediately required or, in the judgment of the health professional, riskier to conduct during a crisis than after the crisis. These surgeries include some cancer-related procedures, operations to address blood vessel problems, some cardiac procedures, gall bladder and hernia operations, hip replacements and cataract surgery and cosmetic surgeries.”
“The longer procedures are postponed the worse health outcomes Ontarians could have and the harder it will be for hospitals to eventually clear the backlog,” the report added.
Here in the United States, so-called elective surgeries and procedures have been similarly postponed in anticipation of a COVID-19 patient influx that has yet to materialize in most of the county. Tens of thousands of healthcare workers have been furloughed.