Canada learning from surgery cancellations during first wave of pandemic: doctor

Canada learning from surgery cancellations during first wave of pandemic: doctor

Robin McGee of Port Williams, N.S., is shown in this undated handout photo. Nearly half of all surgeries were cancelled across the country during the first four months of COVID-19 compared with the same period last year as hospitals braced for a flood of patients based on the experience of Wuhan, China, and Italy, data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information show. McGee learned in mid-March that her colorectal cancer had returned for the third time, just as surgeries in her province and much of Canada were being cancelled, even for urgent cases like hers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Robin McGee

Robin McGee learned in mid-March that the colorectal cancer she started battling a decade earlier had returned for the third time, just as surgeries were being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McGee, of Port Williams, N.S., would normally have waited about a month to begin chemotherapy, but said she didn’t start treatment for three months, and didn’t speak to a surgeon for almost four and a half months.

“So it’s a situation in which I had a diagnosis of a Stage 4 recurrence and I went for months with no guidance,” she said.

McGee was one of many Canadians to have had treatment or surgeries delayed as the pandemic hit and hospitals braced for the flood of patients they expected after seeing images of overrun health-care facilities in Wuhan, China and Italy.

Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows nearly half of all surgeries were cancelled across the country during the first four months of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with the same period last year.

Figures released Thursday show the biggest dip in surgeries between March and June came in April, when 72 per cent of procedures were postponed before provinces and territories started ramping them up to varying degrees.

While a slowdown in elective surgeries was expected, the first wave of the pandemic also meant an estimated 20 per cent fewer life-saving and urgent cancer and cardiac surgeries were performed as jurisdictions scrambled to meet the needs of high-priority patients.

Data from the federal agency is aimed at helping provinces and territories model surgical needs during the second wave of the pandemic.

McGee, 59, was in remission for seven years after her first diagnosis of colorectal cancer in 2010, but the disease recurred in 2018. When it struck again earlier this year, she also needed cataract surgery as a result of previous treatments.

That operation, originally scheduled for March, was cancelled. But McGee received a special exemption from the province to have the surgery in April through a private clinic while she waited for chemotherapy.

The cancellations and delays took an emotional toll on her.

“That’s the closest I’ve ever come in my 10 years (of battling cancer) to going under emotionally,” she said.

Stuart Peacock, a professor in the faculty of health sciences at Simon Fraser University in Buranby, B.C., and co-director of the Canadian Centre for Applied Research in Cancer Control, said health-care providers are learning important lessons about the mental health impact of cancelled surgeries, early detection and screening on patients and their families.

“We need to think more carefully about the trade-offs between curtailing some operations and containing the virus at the same time,” he said. “COVID has taught us that we need to have answers more quickly than we can currently generate them.”

Some patients postponed screening appointments themselves out of fear of entering health-care spaces during the pandemic, Peacock said.

Peacock said he is participating in a study on the unintendended consequences of the health-care response during the pandemic as part of a global effort by the Switzerland-based Union for International Cancer Control, a non-governmental group with over 1,200 organizations in about 170 countries.

Dr. Craig Earle, an oncologist at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, said provinces and territories have learned that fewer cancellations may be the way forward in the second wave of the pandemic, in order to launch a stronger recovery of the health-care system in the months and years ahead.

The partnership and the Canadian Association of Provincial Cancer Agencies has co-ordinated a consortium across the country to share modelling data on practical ways to clear the backlog for cancer patients, said Earle, who is also vice-president of cancer control at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

“We’re looking at things like opening on evenings, or if we’re open six days a week, seven days a week. What if we prioritize or if we don’t prioritize and just go on a first-come-first-served basis?”

The data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information also showed that virtual visits rose by 55 per cent across the country starting in April, though there’s no measurement of the quality of those interactions.

Earle said experience from the past few months has revealed that virtual appointments, which might mean just a phone call, are not suitable in some situations, including when patients would first learn they have cancer. He is now doing most of those visits in person.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2020.

Camille Bains, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Collin Orthner, manager at McBain Camera in downtown Red Deer, stands behind the store’s counter on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
A few Red Deer businesses happy with Black Friday results

While this year’s Black Friday wasn’t as successful as it was in… Continue reading

Le Chateau Inc. is the latest Canadian firm to start producing personal protective equipment for health care workers, in a July 3, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Hundreds of millions of dollars for frontline workers yet to be released, says Alberta Federation of Labour

Information recently released by the Alberta Federation of Labour suggests more than… Continue reading

Red Deer RCMP say a 30-year-old man faces sexual charges against a teen. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Man killed in two-vehicle collision near Penhold, says Blackfalds RCMP

A 46-year-old man is dead following a two-vehicle collision on Highway 42… Continue reading

Banff National Park. (The Canadian Press)
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

EDMONTON — A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths on railway tracks… Continue reading

Cows on pasture at the University of Vermont dairy farm eat hay Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Burlington, Vt. Canadian dairy farmers are demanding compensation from the government because of losses to their industry they say have been caused by a series of international trade deals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lisa Rathke
Feds unveil more funding for dairy, poultry and egg farmers hurt by free trade deals

OTTAWA — Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Canada's top doctor says the country is still on a troubling track for new COVID-19 infections as case counts continue mounting in much of the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
COVID-19 cases in Canada remain on troubling course, Tam says, amid rising numbers

Canada’s top doctor says the country is still on a troubling track… Continue reading

hay
Hay’s Daze: Giraffe knows filling wishes can sometimes be a tall order

Last weekend, I had a lovely breakfast. “So what?” you may say.… Continue reading

A person enters a building as snow falls in Ottawa, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Ottawa has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during its second wave thanks to the city’s residents who have been wearing masks and staying home, said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
People to thank for Ottawa’s success with curbing COVID-19: health officer

The city’s chief medical officer said much of the credit goes to the people who live in Ottawa

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says tonight's public video gaming session with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is about reaching young people where they hang. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP leader stoked over ‘epic crossover’ in video gaming sesh with AOC

Singh and AOC discussed importance of universal pharmacare, political civility, a living wage

A south view of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf breaking apart is seen from Ward Hunt Island, Nunavut, in an Aug. 20, 2011, handout photo. The remote area in the northern reach of the Nunavut Territory, has seen ice cover shrink from over 4 metres thick in the 1950s to complete loss, according to scientists, during recent years of record warming. Scientists are urging the federal government to permanently protect a vast stretch of Canada's remotest High Arctic called the Last Ice Area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CEN/Laval University, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Scientists urge permanent protection of Last Ice Area in Canada’s High Arctic

Tuvaijuittuq has the thickest and oldest ice in the Arctic

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $55 million Lotto Max jackpot

No winning ticket was sold for the $55 million jackpot in Friday… Continue reading

Most Read