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Pandemic reduces elective surgeries and lengthens the waiting times of young people

Published on 2.2.2022
Tampere University
viitekuvassa kaksi henkilöä suojavaatteissa ompelee leikkaushaavaaPhoto: Pexels/Anna Shvets
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic extended the waiting times for elective surgery of especially young people. This was shown by a recent study that investigated the numbers of elective surgeries and waiting times in different age groups in Finland during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the data, information on 88,716 operations were collected from three Finnish hospitals between 2017 and 2020. Ville Mattila, professor of orthopaedics and traumatology at Tampere University, led the study.

In Finland, elective surgeries were postponed during the COVID-19 lockdown that began in March 2020.

When the lockdown was lifted in June 2020, operations started again. After the second wave of COVID-19 in September 2020, surgeries were hardly cancelled and clearing the backlog of postponed operations began.

“At the time, surgeries had to be prioritised so that the most urgent patients were treated first. This raised concerns that the prioritisation had led to inequalities between patient groups of different ages and that the older population had suffered the most,” says Mattila.

“Clearing the surgical backlog began from older patients. However, contrary to expectations, this led to longer waiting times especially for patients under 18 years of age,” Mattila notes.

The incidence of surgeries and waiting times in 2020 were researched by age groups – under 18-year-olds, 18-49-year-olds, 50-69-year-olds and over 70-year-olds – and the numbers were compared to those from the years 2017–2019.

The first wave of COVID-19 especially reduced the surgeries of under 18-year-olds. After the first wave, the numbers of surgeries of 50-69-year-olds grew by 22% and of over 70-year-olds by 29%. In 2020, the number of surgeries performed on under 18-year-old patients decreased by 15%.

When compared with data from 2017–2019, the waiting time of under 18-year-olds was 43% longer from June 2020 to December 2020. The waiting times of 18-49-year-olds, 50-69-year-olds and over 70-year-olds lengthened in May 2020 but got back to the regular level in autumn 2020.

Mikko Uimonen, Ilari Kuitunen, Ville Ponkilainen, Ville M. Mattila: Prioritizing Elective Surgery During the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Caused Age-Related Inequality: a Multicenter Study. SN Comprehensive Clinical Medicine. 10 Jan 2022


Photo: Pexels/ Anna Shvets