Surgery backlog due to COVID-19 could take 84 weeks to clear: study

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TORONTO -- A new study suggests it could take more than a year and a half to clear the backlog of surgeries in Ontario hospitals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Modelling research published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal says the estimated time to clear surgeries postponed due to the pandemic is 84 weeks, with a target of 717 surgeries per week.

The provincial government instructed Ontario hospitals to cancel elective surgeries and other activities deemed not urgent in mid-March to prepare for a possible surge of COVID-19 patients.

That directive was lifted in late May and hospitals gradually resumed performing those surgeries.

The study says that between March 15 and June 13, Ontario hospitals accrued a backlog of 148,364 procedures.

Its authors say the data will play an important role in health planning moving forward, and the modelling framework can be adapted to other jurisdictions.

"The magnitude of the surgical backlog from COVID-19 raises important implications for planning for the recovery phase and for possible second waves of the pandemic in Ontario," study co-author Dr. Jonathan Irish, a surgeon at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, said in a statement.

The researchers say health systems "cannot go back to business as usual" if they want to manage the impact on patients, and must find innovative solutions to prepare for future waves of the novel coronavirus.

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