Association between government policy and delays in emergent and elective surgical care during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil: a modeling study

The impact of public health policy to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on access to surgical care is poorly defined. We aim to quantify the surgical backlog during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Brazilian public health system and determine the relationship between state-level policy response and the degree of state-level delays in public surgical care.

Monthly estimates of surgical procedures performed per state from January 2016 to December 2020 were obtained from Brazil’s Unified Health System Informatics Department. Forecasting models using historical surgical volume data before March 2020 (first reported COVID-19 case) were constructed to predict expected monthly operations from March through December 2020. Total, emergency, and elective surgical monthly backlogs were calculated by comparing reported volume to forecasted volume. Linear mixed effects models were used to model the relationship between public surgical delivery and two measures of health policy response: the COVID-19 Stringency Index (SI) and the Containment & Health Index (CHI) by state.

Between March and December 2020, the total surgical backlog included 1,119,433 (95% Confidence Interval 762,663–1,523,995) total operations, 161,321 (95%CI 37,468–395,478) emergent operations, and 928,758 (95%CI 675,202–1,208,769) elective operations. Increased SI and CHI scores were associated with reductions in emergent surgical delays but increases in elective surgical backlogs. The maximum government stringency (score = 100) reduced emergency delays to nearly zero but tripled the elective surgical backlog.

Strong health policy efforts to contain COVID-19 ensure minimal reductions in delivery of emergent surgery, but dramatically increase elective backlogs. Additional coordinated government efforts will be necessary to specifically address the increased elective backlogs that accompany stringent responses.

The Trauma and Acute Care Surgeon in the COVID-19 Pandemic Era

The World Health Organization recognized in March 2020 the existence of a pandemic for the new coronavirus that appeared in China, in late 2019, and whose disease was named COVID-19. In this context, the SBAIT (Brazilian Society of Integrated Care for Traumatized Patients) conducted a survey with 219 trauma and emergency surgeons regarding the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the role of the surgeon in this pandemic by means of an electronic survey. It was observed that surgeons have been acting under inadequate conditions, with a lack of basic supplies as well as more specific equipment such as N95 masks and facial shields for the care of potential victims who may be contaminated. The latter increases the risk of contamination of professionals, resulting in potential losses in the working teams. Immediate measures must be taken to guarantee access to safety equipment throughout the country, since all trauma victims and/or patients with emergency surgical conditions must be treated as potential carriers of COVID-19.