TORONTO -- The Ontario government has unveiled a plan for how the province will begin to safely resume scheduled surgeries and procedures. 

On March 15, the province began to slow down scheduled surgical and procedural work in order to create capacity for hospitals in case there was a massive surge in COVID-19 patients. 

While this directive is still in place, the Ministry of Health says it may be possible for hospitals to begin planning for the “gradual resumption” of surgeries and procedures that have been postponed. 

"We're taking a responsible and gradual approach to resuming scheduled surgeries, one that will keep our health care system strong, protect our frontline staff and patients, and ensure our hospitals stay prepared for any potential outbreak or surge of COVID-19," Premier Doug Ford said Thursday. "We're asking each hospital to come up with a plan based on their community's needs and the trends they're seeing on the ground. Together, we can get surgeries back on track as soon as possible."

The government said this new plan would allow for some surgeries and procedures to resume while the province also ensures there is capacity for any COVID-19 surge. 

The province said there are a number of factors to consider before going ahead with surgeries, including the safety of the patient and health-care workers and the therapeutic benefit of treatment against the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

The province has not announced a specific date for when surgeries and procedures can continue.

In order to resume scheduled surgeries and procedures each hospital must have the following:

  • A stable number of COVID-19 cases
  • A stable supply of personal protective equipment
  • A stable supply of medications
  • An adequate capacity of inpatient and intensive care unit beds
  • An adequate capacity of health human resources
  • The availability of post-acute care outside the hospital that would be required to support patients after discharge

The cancellation of cancer and cardiac-related surgeries caused the greatest level of concern, as patients feared their conditions would worsen as they awaited their much-needed procedures. A model of the impact, prepared by researchers connected to the University Health Network, projected that 35 cardiac patients would die as a result of a postponed surgery.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said last week that cancer and cardiac surgeries "would be among the first" to return, along with hip and knee replacements and suggested that the province is working to create a "COVID-free" hospitals dedicated to performing urgently needed surgeries. 

"Because of collective efforts of every Ontarian, we are now in position to begin to plan for gradual resumption of scheduled and elective surgeries and procedures," Elliott said Thursday. 

"Ensuring our readiness required us to make tough decisions, no decision tougher than delaying surgeries. I know it's been concerning to many people, (but) doing so ensured our readiness to protect Ontarians health as we prepared for worst case scenario."