The Cambie Surgery Centre is now recommending patients scheduled for surgery at the private clinic get a COVID-19 test before their operations.

Dr. Brian Day, co-owner of the Vancouver centre, said although the test has been shown to have a false negative rate as high as 30%, “even a 70% rate of knowing is better than ignorance.

“Some knowledge is better than no knowledge and, as you know, some of the health workers (anesthesiologists) dealing with airways are at higher risk than others. For our purposes, testing is best done within a few days of surgery.”

Anesthesiologists and general surgeons have been some of the most vocal physician groups advocating for routine testing. But in B.C., where the testing rate is about half the national rate, health authorities are not asking patients to routinely get pre-operative tests although experts who drafted guidelines have wisely allowed surgeons to use their clinical discretion. Patients are, however, screened through questionnaires meant to identify risks. Those who are high risk because of contact with individuals infected by COVID-19, or who test positive themselves will have their operations delayed.

While surgeons, nurses and other health care professionals are protected in operating and recovery rooms with personal protective equipment (masks, goggles, gloves, gowns, face shields) some patients will undoubtedly have some anxiety about contracting COVID-19 from other patients unless they can be reassured by the knowledge that all patients have been tested.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said today that the B.C. government now has a large stockpile of PPE to protect health care workers – more than 4.8-million N95 respirator masks, five million surgical masks, two million pieces of eye protection and 30 million pairs of gloves. It’s estimated that the catchup for all surgical cases delayed by the pandemic will take two years.

Linda Lupini. an executive with the Provincial Health Services Authority, showed a photo on Twitter of the Langley warehouse where the PPE is stored:

The B.C. government has not disclosed how many patient-to-patient transmissions have occurred in hospitals. But in cities like Montreal, pre-surgery COVID-19 testing is now routine because of such transmissions.

The Cambie Surgery Centre is not one of the eight clinics the government and health authorities have contracts with to help clear the backlog of operations that were cancelled or delayed when the pandemic began.  The Cambie centre is involved in litigation against the government over the matter of patients using their money to get expedited treatment.

The plaintiffs in the long-running litigation maintain that patients have the right, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to use their money for such purposes.

A decision in the matter is expected sometime in the next six months.

Here’s one of the dozens of stories I’ve written about the case: