FREDERICTON, N.B. -- Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, New Brunswick was already contending with an extensive backlog of elective surgeries and procedures – leaving patients waiting months, or even years, for some procedures. With many non-urgent operations being postponed, the backlog continues to grow.

With the province reopening, Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre, which has been focused on COVID-19 and providing immunizations, is working on seeing patients who have had their healthcare put on hold for months.

"We've started to bring people back for foot care and opening things up to people who really do need to have something sooner rather than later," says Fredericton Downtown Community Health Centre nurse manager, Joan Kingston.

Since mid-March, N.B.'s health networks, Vitalité Health and Horizon Health, cancelled all non-urgent surgeries and procedures as hospitals and clinics prepared for the stress of COVID-19.

"Patients have been not getting imaging such as mammograms, CAT scans, MRI's," says N.B. Medical Society president and general surgeon, Dr. Chris Goodyear. "A lot of elective surgeries have been cancelled and delayed. Endoscopy procedures, like colonoscopies, have been put on hold."

However, on Friday, the health networks announced they are gradually increasing services – which Goodyear says is good news.

"Disease doesn't stop just because we're all trying to plank a curve," says Goodyear. "We have seen instances, unfortunately, where patients should have come into the hospital, especially the emergency room with things like chest pain. That's been delayed and, obviously, sometimes the consequences of that can be quite devastating."

The province says there's been a nine per cent increase in the number of people awaiting surgeries as a result of cancellations from mid-March to May 11 – on top of an existing backlog.

In the event of a second wave of COVID-19, Goodyear says hospitals will aim to remain under 80 per cent capacity.

"By virtue of that, it means that we are not going to be up and running 100 per cent of our operating rooms until we get a vaccine," says Goodyear. "We are looking at other ways in order to accommodate the backlog of patients who have been waiting for surgery."

Typically in the summer, there is a slowdown in healthcare services to allow vacation time for staff.  However, Goodyear says vacation breaks likely won't happen, to catch up on the growing backlog.

Meanwhile, the province's health networks say patients whose procedures were cancelled, will be contacted to reschedule.