March 16, BC’s Health Ministry announced cancellation of thousands of elective surgeries to free up hospital beds for an expected influx of coronavirus patients. Hospitals were to undertake urgent and emergency procedures only and diagnostic procedures would be cancelled. Government regulations would lead to closure of private surgery centres as well.
At the time, there were six Covid-19 patients in more than 10,000 BC hospital beds.
Since that announcement a month ago, health authorities have been successful in clearing hospital beds.
However, the expected influx of Covid-19 patients has not occurred. Large parts of BC hospitals sit empty and medical staff is underutilized.
Thousands of people with medical conditions needing hospital treatment have suffered from service denials. More endure uncertainty because vital diagnostic work is unavailable. These procedures are often critical to determine appropriate courses of treatments and the urgency of that work.
In response to criticism from medical professionals and others (like bloggers), Health Minister Adrian Dix responded:
A lot of surgery is being done in B.C. and while this is what we said at the beginning, it is still important to understand that.
Dix indicated almost 14,000 surgeries have been postponed and about 3,000 more will be postponed each week. He did not quantify other postponed medical procedures.
Almost all of the BC government’s coronavirus response has been appropriate but, after talking with health professionals, I am convinced they are wrong in not allowing many hospital services to resume.
British Columbians are not well served when 4,600 acute care beds stay empty and coronavirus patients occupy less than 3% of available space and their numbers are declining.
Abundance of caution is appropriate but individuals are paying an unnecessary price. The average stay of a hospital patient in British Columbia is less than seven days. So, even if there is an uptick in viral infections, beds will clear without intervention.
Numbers are imprecise but in normal times, 10 to 12 thousand patients are in BC Hospitals. Around 1,500 of those are discharged each day and replaced by new people needing treatment.
If 75% of now vacant hospital beds were occupied and a pandemic surge occurred, the current number of empty beds would be restored within three days. Trends experienced elsewhere show there will not be a massive single day spike.
In my view, the best part of BC’s corona response is that politicians have allowed health experts to stand in the spotlight and inform citizens. Elsewhere, that’s not been the case, particularly with two crypto-fascists south and east of here.
But there is an overabundance of caution exercised in management of British Columbia hospitals. It can be easily fixed, without harming our province’s ability to cope with the coronavirus.