Canadian health minister says postponement of elective surgeries caused some 35 deaths: Report

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Tuesday that roughly 35 people had died in the southeastern Canadian region after thousands of elective surgeries were postponed there because of coronavirus concerns, the Washington Examiner reported.

The deaths were first reported by researchers of the United Health Network in Toronto. Some 52,700 surgeries have been postponed in Ontario since March 15, and another 12,000 surgeries are being postponed each week, the Examiner said.

A local watchdog group reported that hospitals are relatively empty in Ontario, as the rush of COVID-19 patients has not materialized the way experts were expecting, according to the Examiner.

“Any death that happened because of COVID-19 — whether directly or indirectly — is a tragedy,” Elliott said Tuesday, according to the Examiner. “We feel for those families who’ve lost family members — whether it has been from cancer death, cardiac death, or a COVID-19 death. But these were decisions that we had to make.”

Unintended consequences

The deaths were attributed to cardiac conditions that occurred due to cardiac surgeries being postponed, the report said, which underscores the unintended consequences of preparing for a surge that has not taken place.

“Elective procedures are often not optional,” the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario reported in light of the news, according to the Examiner. “Rather, elective procedures are not immediately required or, in the judgment of the health professional, riskier to conduct during a crisis than after the crisis.”

The group went on: “These surgeries include some cancer-related procedures, operations to address blood vessel problems, some cardiac procedures, gall bladder and hernia operations, hip replacements and cataract surgery, and cosmetic surgeries.”

The snapshot shows just one result of upheaval that has resulted from efforts to reduce casualties from the coronavirus. In the U.S., tens of thousands of health care workers have been furloughed because of elective procedures and routine health care that has been canceled or postponed, adding to the ranks of some 30 million Americans now out of work amid the crisis, according to Politico.

Long-term effects

The full results of these decisions may not be available for years to come. Months of missed mammograms, pap smears, and routine check-ups are bound to result in higher rates of cancer and other preventable diseases.

Many people may also be ignoring painful symptoms because they are afraid to go to the doctor or hospital because they think they will be infected with the virus, reports have suggested.

Hospitals continuing to postpone elective procedures are only adding to the problem. There’s no reason why hospitals can’t begin doing elective procedures again and cancel them on an as-needed basis if an unlikely spike in coronavirus hospitalizations should occur.

The curve appears to have been sufficiently flattened, and hospitals are still ready if the numbers begin to increase. Let’s not put any more people at risk than we need to and add to the indirect coronavirus death toll by holding back care for those that really do need their “non-emergency” procedures to stay healthy.

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