COVID-19 scheduled surgery backlog reduced by 88 per cent

Government of Alberta

COVID-19 has caused scheduled surgery backlogs across Canada. Early in the pandemic, Alberta Health Services (AHS) estimated Alberta would be facing a backlog of up to two years. Instead, Alberta has developed a plan to clear the backlog and will increase surgical activity volume to 150 per cent to meet the 2023 Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI) platform commitment of providing all scheduled surgery within clinically acceptable times.

Beginning March 18, all scheduled surgeries were put on hold until May 4. This resulted in a 60 per cent reduction in surgeries, leading to a backlog of about 25,000 surgeries. To date, 88 per cent of that surgical backlog has been eliminated.

“Our platform commitment to reduce surgical wait times will be met, pandemic or no pandemic. Reducing the backlog by 88 per cent is a good first step – but we will need to push even harder in the months to come. I am also incredibly honoured to announce an Indigenous funding grant stream that will open up the opportunity for First Nations communities to establish a chartered surgical facility on reserve.”

Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health

In order to meet wait time targets, new and existing chartered surgical facilities will also be significantly expanded to provide more publicly funded surgeries, leaving hospital operating rooms available to perform more complex surgeries.

Quick facts

  • As of Sept. 9, AHS is performing almost 88 per cent of pre-pandemic surgical volume compared to the low of 40 per cent early in the pandemic. AHS continues to increase volume and will reach 100 per cent before the end of the year.
  • AHS will then exceed pre-COVID surgical volumes early in 2021, reaching 125 per cent and then up to 150 per cent in order to reach 2023 Alberta Surgical Initiative targets.
  • A February 2020 request for expressions of interest generated 42 submissions from existing chartered surgical facilities or new operators who have proposed to provide up to 200,000 more surgeries in facilities in all five provincial health zones.
  • Alberta first began offering some publicly funded surgical procedures in chartered surgical facilities in the early 1990s. That contracted work has grown over the decades, with 43 of chartered surgical facilities now under contract with AHS to provide ophthalmological and dermatological surgeries, ear, nose and throat surgeries, oral and maxillofacial surgeries, some gynecological surgeries and reconstructive plastic surgeries. These are publicly funded procedures performed in private facilities in the community, which allows AHS – like many other health systems across Canada – to expand surgeries and reduce wait times.
  • In March 2020, the province committed $100 million to renovate, equip and open new operating rooms in urban and rural public hospitals across Alberta so they can provide more surgeries to Albertans.
    • The planning work began earlier this year, with designs beginning in August and construction expected to start in 2021
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