The number of surgeries delayed in Alberta by the fourth wave of the pandemic has reached 15,000 — nearly double what it was a month ago — as the province cancelled procedures and reallocated resources to COVID-19 patients, the health minister said Thursday.
Jason Copping also said the province “hasn’t got a clear timeline at this point in time” when delayed surgeries will resume.
The minister said surgeries are still being delayed every day, despite dropping case numbers. He said the province is working with Alberta Health Services on a plan to reschedule those surgeries and increase capacity for future waves of the pandemic.
That includes reaching out to the Alberta Medical Association and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta, Copping said.
Copping said there were 30,000 surgeries delayed in Alberta during the first three waves of the pandemic, which were caught up on by August.
The province is back up to two-thirds its normal surgical capacity and all cancer surgeries have resumed.
NDP health critic David Shepherd called the number of delayed surgeries “heartbreaking,” saying he blames Premier Jason Kenney for not acting quickly enough to prevent a fourth wave.
“This wave is among the worst that has hit us in the province of Alberta and the tragedy, the infuriating part of this, is that it did not have to happen,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd says he wants to know who was in charge of the province in August, when Kenney was absent from the public for 23 days, amid frequent calls from doctors to step in and communicate a plan to combat the beginnings of the fourth wave.
During Kenney’s absence, active COVID-19 cases and ICU hospitalizations quadrupled.
The president of an Alberta health-care union says it’s important to remember that every case involved in the surgical backlog is a person.
“These are our neighbours, our friends, and our families, who are the people waiting for these surgeries,” said Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.
He added that the backlog is also having a devastating impact on the workers his group represents, who are going “flat out” to deal with the workload, and have been since the pandemic started 20 months ago.
Parker is concerned that longer wait times for surgeries will turn procedures that were routine at one point into urgent procedures.
“The wait times that people are dealing with — it’s moving from weeks, to months, to years. It’s becoming increasingly difficult.”