The COVID-19 pandemic is having a deep impact on emergency surgical services, with a significant reduction of patients admitted into emergency surgical units world widely. Reliable figures of this reduction have not been produced yet. Our international audit aimed at giving a precise snapshot of the absolute and relative changes of emergency surgical admissions at the outbreak of the pandemic.
Materials and methods
Datasets of patients admitted as general surgical emergencies into 45 internationally distributed emergency surgical units during the months of March and April 2020 (Covid-19 pandemic outbreak) were collected and compared with those of patients admitted into the same units during the months of March and April 2019 (pre-Covid-19). Primary endpoint was to evaluate the relative variation of the presentation symptoms and discharge diagnoses between the two study periods. Secondary endpoint was to identify the possible change of therapeutic strategy during the same two periods.
Forty-four centres participated sent their anonymised data to the study hub, for a total of 6263 patients. Of these, 3810 were admitted in the pre-Covid period and 2453 in the Covid period, for a 35.6% absolute reduction. The most common presentation was abdominal pain, whose incidence did not change between the two periods, but in the Covid period patients presented less frequently with anal pain, hernias, anaemia and weight loss. ASA 1 and low frailty patients were admitted less frequently, while ASA>1 and frail patients showed a relative increase. The type of surgical access did not change significantly, but lap-to-open conversion rate halved between the two study periods. Discharge diagnoses of appendicitis and diverticulitis reduced significantly, while bowel ischaemia and perianal ailments had a significant relative increase.
Our audit demonstrates a significant overall reduction of emergency surgery admissions at the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic with a minimal change of the proportions of single presentations, diagnoses and treatments. These findings may open the door to new ways of managing surgical emergencies without engulfing the already busy hospitals.