COVID-19 restrictions cause surge in elective surgery cancellations

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According to a new study more than 28 million elective surgeries worldwide will be cancelled or postponed this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVIDSurg Collaborative study, based on a 12-week period of peak disruption to hospital services, was published in the British Journal of Surgery and indicated that each additional week of disruption to hospital services will be associated with a further 2.4 million cancellations.

In Australia, so far there have been eight weeks of significant cancellations of most non-urgent elective surgery, from mid-March to mid-May.

However, elective surgery is now restarting, with varying but often still significant restrictions on numbers of cases.

In total, this period of restricted workload has created a backlog of almost 400,000 cases that will need to be cleared after the COVID-19 disruption ends.

Dr Peter Pockney, Consultant Surgeon in Newcastle said “COVIDSurg is believed to be the biggest collaborative study ever conducted in surgery”.

“The contribution of Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) Trainees and Fellows, in Australia and NZ, has been vital in ensuring that the data produced and conclusions from it are valid and robust,” he said.

“The lessons learned will help health services plan, adapt and deliver high quality safe services as the pandemic progresses.”

The researchers collected detailed information from surgeons across more than 350 hospitals and 71 countries on plans for the cancellation of elective surgery.

This data was then statistically modelled to estimate totals for cancelled surgery across 190 countries.

The researchers project that worldwide more than 70 per cent of planned operations will be cancelled through the peak period of COVID-19 related disruption.

The majority of cancelled surgeries will be for non-cancer conditions; however, it is estimated that globally 2.3 million cancer surgeries will be cancelled or postponed.

Orthopaedic procedures will be cancelled most frequently, with 6.3 million orthopaedic operations cancelled worldwide over a 12-week period.

To read the full study, go to the British Journal of Surgery website.

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