Elective surgeries are being scheduled again at Stanton Territorial Hospital as part of territorial government plans to relax restrictions on social distancing.
Non-emergency surgeries have been postponed at the hospital since March 30 as a means to avoid unnecessary contact between health care workers and potential carriers of the coronavirus. Elective oncology surgeries or surgeries for cancer have continued through the pandemic, however, according to the GNWT.
The GNWT states that among those that would be considered elective surgeries are hip and knee replacements, ACL repairs, gall bladder removal, hernia repairs, tubal ligations, tonsillectomy, tympanostomy tubes, and cataract repairs.
Lisa Giovanetto, communications officer with the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, stated in an email last week that the release of the GNWT’s Emerging Wisely document has allowed the department to focus on increasing capacity to hold elective surgeries at full capacity for June 1.
“We are beginning to contact patients directly to book these kinds of procedures,” she stated. “Rather than booking months in advance like we would in the past, our planning window for this is shorter. This allows us to be nimble and quickly reduce services if there is an increase of Covid-19 in the territory.”
Giovanetto stated that the department has been triaging and prioritizing surgical bookings based on urgency and “how long someone has been on the wait list.”
“The plan is to gradually ramp up elective surgery capacity in order to reach close to full capacity by June 2020, however this could change at any time depending on the pandemic situation,” she stated.
“We have chosen to take this gradual approach as the health and safety of our patients is a priority, as this gives us the ability to ensure we are appropriately screening patients and managing the use of (personal protective equipment).”
Giovanetto stated that individual surgical specialties each have a separate waitlist ranging from 48 to 132 patients, depending on the specialty.
“These numbers change on a daily basis as new patients are seen and added to the list, and other surgeries are completed,” she added.
Giovanetto also stated that patients are recommended to go ahead with recommended surgeries if they are contacted.
“We are hearing that some people are nervous about scheduling appointments or procedures; however the authority has processes in place to ensure we aren’t putting patients at risk,” she stated. “As Covid-19 could last a long time, patients should not delay appointments or procedures that they need now, as putting off care could cause more harm in the long run.”
Sarah Cook, territorial director of the NWT Health and Social Services Authority, was unavailable for an interview last week, but she said in a news teleconference on April 22 that health authorities have been discussing the issue for weeks.
“We’ve been having lots of discussions around this the importance of continuing to meet the health needs of our population during the pandemic,” she said. “And certainly now as we have had great success so far in terms of public health measures and not having a ramp up of the number of cases of (Covid-19).
“That question is being asked and we’re discussing it regularly within the health authorities.”
Cook said at the time that it was important for surgical teams to be able to both balance the safety of patients that may have been “symptomatic or Covid-suspect” and workers during the pandemic, but also to ensure that urgent surgeries could continue.
“All along we’ve been continuing to provide surgery for cancer and for anything that’s been urgent, but certainly the surgical team has actually been making a plan to to expand some of the (elective and non-urgent) things that (were) ramped down, initially.”
Cook said her department has also been trying to promote virtual care as much as possible, which although cannot provide surgical care, can provide consultation and initial diagnoses.