Thousands of Ontario patients are being forced to wait even longer for surgery as the province once again orders hospitals to pause what it calls “non-urgent” procedures amidst the latest round of coronavirus lockdowns. Despite the "non-urgent" label officially affixed to these cancelled surgeries, many patients are being denied access to life-saving medical care.
One woman from Woodbridge, Ontario, with Stage 4 colon cancer says her surgery has been postponed "indefinitely" and that it could be too late to save her if the procedure keeps getting pushed back.
Cassandra Di Maria, age 30, was diagnosed with cancer in 2020 and has undergone 17 rounds of chemotherapy since then. "Now, I'm waiting on my next big surgery," Di Maria told CTV News. "I have no idea when this surgery will happen and I'm at a standstill."
Di Maria said in December she received a notice that her surgery was being postponed to January, and then was told that date had been cancelled too.
In an email reportedly viewed by CTV News, a representative from Mount Sinai Hospital told Di Maria her surgery was cancelled because of "the situation with COVID-19" and that "everything is getting cancelled at this point."
The CEO of Ontario Health confirmed at a press conference earlier this month that 8,000 to 10,000 surgeries will be added to the backlog every week during the latest provincial directive. “It was a tough decision, a big cost, but something that is necessary given what we’re seeing in the numbers,” Matthew Anderson said.
Speaking of her situation, Di Maria continued:
"COVID-19 patients are getting all the care right now and we're on the back burner, which is horrible. I would consider my surgery to be urgent, so I’m not really sure why it’s being affected."
"It's been hard and scary," she said. "I'm not the only person experiencing this. There are a lot of people and something needs to change. This whole situation needs to be reassessed."
Another Ontario woman by the name of Kerrie told CityNews that her husband, who was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2019, will be another one of those patients whose life may soon be sacrificed on the altar of coronavirus restrictions. As CityNews reports:
This past summer, he was told the cancer had spread to his lungs, making him a stage four patient. While chemotherapy has been effective, his last CT scan still showed a growth on the lung.
“We’re meeting with the oncologist on Thursday and we were going to talk about whether they could surgically remove this last nodule,” said Kerrie. But now she worries surgery could be off the table.
She is one of many who fear the move to cancel certain surgeries could mean the difference between life and death for their loved ones
“You’d want to make sure that these patients are getting the surgeries they need as soon as they need it so you’re not waiting until the situation gets worse. The malls are still open but we’re cancelling surgeries? I just don’t get it,” she said. “I just want [the government] to know my husband’s life is not disposable.”
When asked about the life-threatening situations that Ontarians are facing due to cancelled surgeries, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said "we know this difficult decision can be distressing for people requiring hospital care."
"Surgical resources are managed independently at each hospital in Ontario. As such, each institution must balance the needs of their urgent scheduled surgery patients, emergency surgery patients, and the needs of critical care patients in hospital, while also balancing the need to limit harm to patients by considering what surgeries and procedures should not be delayed, for example, bypass surgeries and most cancer surgeries."