Covid-19 could delay 28 million elective surgeries worldwide


The coronavirus pandemic could scuttle more than 28 million elective surgeries across the globe this year, according to a new study.

British researchers gathered information from surgeons at 359 hospitals in 71 countries about elective surgery plans, and used that data in a statistical model to estimate numbers in 190 countries.

Based on a 12-week period of peak disruption to hospital services caused by the pandemic, 28.4 million elective surgeries worldwide could be cancelled or postponed in 2020, the study found. Each additional week of hospital service disruption would cause 2.4 more million cancellations.

"Although essential, cancellations place a heavy burden on patients and society," said study author Dr Aneel Bhangu, consultant surgeon and senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham.

Orthopaedic procedures most affected

"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," he said in a university news release.

Researchers estimated that nearly three-quarters of planned surgeries worldwide would be cancelled through the peak of pandemic disruptions.

About 2.3 million cancer surgeries would be cancelled or postponed, the study estimated, but most cancellations would be for non-cancer conditions. Researchers said orthopaedic procedures would be affected most, with 6.3 million operations cancelled worldwide.

Cancelling elective surgeries reduces patients' risk of exposure to Covid-19 in the hospital and allows the hospitals to respond to the pandemic, for example, by converting operating rooms into intensive care units, Bhangu said.

The study was published on 12 May in the British Journal of Surgery.

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