Check out Tories’ propaganda while you’re waiting Health-care billboard ads simply not true

Let the propaganda begin.

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Let the propaganda begin.

Wait times for surgeries and diagnostic testing in Manitoba continue to rise. They have increased, in part, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also owing to major gaffes in how the province consolidated acute-care hospitals in Winnipeg.

Instead of finding ways to reduce long delays in hospital procedures, the Stefanson government is now resorting to propaganda to try to create the perception that the situation is improving. Government started plastering its latest message on billboards around Winnipeg in recent days with the claim that “Budget 2022 is clearing the surgical and diagnostic backlog.”

These billboards have started popping up in the city. (Tom Brodbeck / Winnipeg Free Press)

There is no evidence of that. Government’s own data shows wait times for hip- and knee-replacement surgery are longer than they were a year ago. Wait times for non-emergency cardiac surgery have nearly tripled over the past year, to seven months. Wait times for most diagnostic imaging, including MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds, have either remained steady or have grown since last summer.

Doctors Manitoba provides a more in-depth analysis of wait times. It includes estimates of those waiting for care who may not be on a wait list because of deferred treatment during the pandemic. Their estimates show the backlog continues to grow. The latest figures suggest there was a backlog of 54,820 surgeries in January (up 2,493 from the previous month). The backlog for diagnostic imaging was 45,251 (up 2,762 from December). There was a backlog of 67,816 for other diagnostic tests, including endoscopies, mammograms, sleep-disorder studies and lung function tests, also up slightly from the previous month.

The provincial government’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force says it partially agrees with the accuracy of those figures. However, the province refuses to provide any backlog estimates of its own, saying it plans to launch a new centralized wait-list information system in late summer to provide more accurate information. Until then, Manitobans are supposed to, well… wait.

Without that data, and with no projections or targets on shortening wait lists, the so-called campaign to reduce wait times is, largely, useless.

Either way, the Stefanson government’s claim that it’s clearing surgical and diagnostic backlogs is a complete fabrication. It’s an attempt to indoctrinate the public into thinking government is making progress when it’s not.

It isn’t just a desperate political tactic, it’s unethical.

Instead of finding ways to reduce long delays in hospital procedures, Premier Heather Stefanson and her government are resorting to propaganda to try to create the perception the situation is improving. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The Tories, while in opposition, criticized the NDP government in 2014-15 for doing essentially same thing. Then-premier Greg Selinger spent almost $1 million on a “steady growth, good jobs” propaganda campaign after he raised the provincial sales tax. The NDP erected hundreds of signs around the province, including at job sites that received government funding. Government officials claimed at the time they wanted to show Manitobans where their tax dollars were going and how the money was supposedly creating jobs and boosting the economy. Yet, there were no spending details or job numbers on the signs — it was pure propaganda, which the Tories rightly criticized at the time. Now they’re dong the same thing, but with surgical and diagnostic backlogs.

A far more constructive use of government advertising dollars right now would be to promote third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Public health has compelling data (currently hidden away on a government website) that shows how effective booster shots are at reducing severe illness, including deaths and hospitalizations. With the effectiveness of two doses of the vaccine fading, one would think that would be a priority for government.

The graphs illustrating that data should be prominently displayed on billboards all over the province. They should be mailed out to every household, business and not-for-profit organization in Manitoba.

Encouraging more people to get a third dose would reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and allow more redeployed hospital staff to resume their normal jobs on surgical wards. That would allow hospitals to increase surgical slates and reduce backlogs.

Instead, the Stefanson government is using tax dollars to fund a propaganda campaign to create the perception that improvements are being made. It’s a disgrace.

The province claims on billboards that “Budget 2022 is clearing the surgical and diagnostic backlog.” (Tom Brodbeck / Winnipeg Free Press)

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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