Healthcare restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to thousands of non-virus-related deaths, along with an increase in mental health disorders and use stimulants, and has put a strain on Canada’s healthcare system, according to a study commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).
Research indicates that delayed treatment or missed health care services due to pandemic restrictions could be a factor in more than 4,000 deaths unrelated to COVID-19 infection since March. 8 to December 2020 and also resulted in a significant backlog of medical procedures.
Excess number of deaths refers to the number of people who die above the expected rate. The study said the death toll in Canada was higher than expected from spring 2020 to early winter 2021, and for much of August through December during that period, the number of deaths excess is estimated to be higher than the number of COVID -19 deaths, although it has been lower in the following months.
Statistics Canada released a report earlier this month showing that the pandemic has resulted in 5.2% more deaths overall than would have been expected if it had never happened.
“Over the past 20 months, COVID-19 has overwhelmed our health system, and the consequences for the broader patient population are now clear,” said Dr. a press release. “We are facing a significant backlog of procedures and treatments as well as more acute diseases.”
Among the delayed procedures highlighted by the study was a reduction in cancer screening visits in Ontario, some of which were halted early in the pandemic and appear to have remained at less than 20 to 20 years. 35% above pre-pandemic levels earlier this year.
The study says nearly 17 opioid-related deaths occur every day across Canada in 2020, a 70% increase from the previous year. The rate rose to nearly 20 deaths a day in the first three months of 2021.
In terms of mental health, about 20% of Canadians reported high levels of anxiety at the start of the pandemic in April 2020, the study said, and by June 2021, that number had grown to 24 %. During the same period, the number of Canadians reporting high levels of depression increased by 10 to 15 percent.
“The legacy of this pandemic, which is still ongoing, will be felt for years to come,” Smart said. “We have to start working now to keep the backlog from getting worse.”
The study estimated the backlog of eight procedures, including CT scans, MRI scans, knee replacement surgery and cataract surgery, totaling 327,800 people waiting to be performed nationwide. It said the number of days it took to perform these procedures ranged from 46 days for breast cancer surgery to 118 days for hip replacement surgery.
The study also calculated the cost to return the waiting time for these procedures to pre-pandemic levels would be $1.3 billion in additional funding for the health care system.
“The pandemic has exacerbated existing problems, including the health workforce crisis,” Smart said. “It will take significant efforts and commitment to rebuild our health system and invest in our health workforce.”
Smart added that she is pleased to see the federal government commit to making investments in health recovery and clearing the backlog as outlined in last week’s coronation speech.
Doctors and patients throughout the year have warned of the risk of delayed cancer diagnoses due to limited access to health care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Further research from Statistics Canada earlier this year found that the number of drug overdoses and alcohol-related deaths among Canadians under the age of 65 is increasing as a result of incarceration and protracted during the pandemic.
Studies have also shown that the pandemic has led to a significant increase in anxiety and depression, especially among young people globally.