A newly released study projects that nearly 400,000 elective surgeries across Canada will have been cancelled or delayed across the country by mid-June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a backlog that could take more than a year to clear.

As many as 28 million elective surgeries could see the same fate around the world during the pandemic, according to the study’s peer-reviewed findings, published this week in the British Journal of Surgery.

The researchers say surgery cancellations at this scale will have a “substantial impact” on patients, as well as cumulative and “potentially devastating consequences” for health systems around the world.

“Delaying time-sensitive elective operations, such as cancer or transplant surgery, may lead to deteriorating health, worsening quality of life, and unnecessary deaths,” the study says.

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“When hospitals resume elective activities, patients are likely to be prioritised by clinical urgency, resulting in lengthening delays for patients with benign but potentially disabling conditions where there may be less of a perceived time impact.”

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The study by COVIDSurg Collaborative and led by researchers at the University of Birmingham was based on a 12-week period of peak disruption to hospital services around the world.