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

Lancet Reg Health Am. 2021 Nov;3:100056. doi: 10.1016/j.lana.2021.100056. Epub 2021 Aug 24.


Background: 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.

Methods: 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.

Findings: 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.

Interpretation: 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.

Keywords: COVID-19; Elective surgery; Emergency surgery; Global health; Health policy; Pandemics; Surgery.