Study: 28 million surgeries shelved by COVID-19

More than 28 million elective surgeries across the globe could be cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – creating a never-before-seen backlog in procedures that could take a year to clear even at an accelerated pace, a new study reveals.

Western professor Janet Martin is part of the CovidSurg Collaborative research team which has projected that 28.4 million elective surgeries worldwide could be cancelled or postponed in 2020 based on a 12-week period of peak disruption to hospital services due to COVID-19.

Each additional week of disruption to services could mean a further 2.4 million cancellations.

The modelling study, Elective surgery cancellations due to the COVID‐19 pandemic: global predictive modelling to inform surgical recovery plans, was published recently in the British Journal of Surgery.

“This has never happened before on a global basis in an era where we have the volume of surgery we have today,” said Martin, an Anesthesia and Perioperative Medicine professor in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. “Surgery is a critically important part of health care globally. This study was essential to define the global impact of surgical cancellations.”

In collaboration with lead researchers at the University of Birmingham, the team collected detailed information from surgeons across 359 hospitals and 71 countries on plans for cancellation of elective surgery. This data was then statistically modelled to estimate totals for cancelled surgery across 190 countries.

The researchers project that worldwide 72.3 per cent of planned surgeries would be cancelled through the peak period of COVID-19 related disruption.

Orthopaedic procedures are cancelled most frequently, with an estimated 6.3 million orthopaedic surgeries cancelled worldwide over a 12-week period. The study also projected that globally 2.3 million cancer surgeries will be cancelled or postponed.

In Canada, most elective surgeries have been cancelled since mid-March. If this continues for a peak of 12 weeks total, it will result in 394,576 cancelled surgeries, including 27,390 cancer procedures. These cancellations will create a backlog that will need to be cleared after the COVID-19 disruption ends.

After the disruption ends, it will take 11 months to clear the backlog in Canada if the number of surgeries performed each week is increased by 20 per cent compared to pre-pandemic activity, according to the study.

“The cancellations were necessary in order to ensure sufficient capacity for COVID-19 demand, and also to allow time to evaluate whether usual volumes of surgery could continue safely in the context of COVID-19 without risk of infection to patients,” Martin said. “Understanding these numbers will help to prepare for post-peak-pandemic in order to start a plan for reopening elective surgery in a way that is safe and manageable.”

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