Nearly 150 000 elective surgeries cancelled during COVID-19 crisis
A study published by UCT researchers in partnership with international academic colleagues has warned that a crippling backlog will amass.
Across the world over 28 million elective surgeries could be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with 146 000 procedures cancelled in South Africa patients are being left anxiously in the lurch.
A study published in the British Journal of Surgery compiled by researchers from the University of Cape Town (UCT) as well as lead researchers at the University of Birmingham found that 73% of elected surgeries would be cancelled globally in 2020 based on information collected from nearly 400 hospitals worldwide.
Orthopaedic surgeries most frequently cancelled
The project is collectively carried out by the CovidSurg Collaborative, and their study warns that the cancellations will lead to a hefty backlog that will create a variety of issues in the healthcare sector once the COVID-19 pandemic is overcome.
They found that orthopaedic procedures will be cancelled most frequently with 6.3 million surgeries cancelled worldwide over a 12-week period. It is also projected that globally 2.3 million cancer surgeries will be cancelled or postponed.
Over 12 000 cancer procedures are among the surgeries set to be postponed or cancelled in South Africa, creating a backlog that will need to be cleared after the COVID-19 disruption ends.
Professor Bruce Biccard, Professor and Second Chair in the Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine at UCT, said that the Department of Health will have a serious issue to deal with once the backlog begins to mount.
“Each additional week of disruption to hospital services results in an additional 12 000 surgeries being cancelled. Following the surge in the epidemic, we are going to need a continuous assessment of the situation, so that we can plan a safe, resumption of elective surgery at the earliest opportunity,” said Biccard.
“Clearing the backlog of elective surgeries created by COVID-19 is going to result in a significant additional cost for the National Health Department. The government will have to ensure that the national Department of Health is provided with additional funding and resources to ramp up elective surgery to clear the backlog.”
Concern for patients with deteriorating conditions
Aneel Bhangu, consultant surgeon and lecturer at the University of Birmingham agreed with Biccard, saying that while the cancellations were mostly unavoidable, the results would severely hamper healthcare services post-COVID-19.
“Although essential, cancellations place a heavy burden on patients and society,” he said.
“Patients’ conditions may deteriorate, worsening their quality of life as they wait for rescheduled surgery. In some cases, for example cancer, delayed surgeries may lead to a number of unnecessary deaths.”