Analyzing health data proves a frustrating experience
Province needs to up its game on communications
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The number of Manitobans on wait lists for diagnostic services may be down slightly, but the length of time people are waiting for MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds has increased, according to data from Manitoba Health’s wait time information system.
Those wait times were not included in data posted online Friday by the province’s diagnostic and surgical recovery task force, after Health Minister Audrey Gordon promised the task force would provide a full update that day.
“After riding out the fourth wave (of the COVID-19 pandemic), the second most important issue for our government is the diagnostic and surgical recovery backlog,” Gordon said during question period Thursday. “That is why we established a diagnostic and surgical recovery task force, and that’s why tomorrow at the update, Manitobans will hear about the great work that is being done by the task force.”
There was no update Friday, at least not the one expected, where the minister and the head of the task force — Dr. Peter MacDonald — would provide Manitobans with detailed information about backlogs and answer questions about plans to reduce them.
Instead, the task force released an incomplete document late Friday that failed to include information about how long people were waiting for diagnostic and surgical services.
The task force reported the number of people waiting for CT scans, ultrasounds and MRIs fell between 12 and 16 per cent from December to January. However, the number of people on a wait list is not a measurement of how long they have to wait for a procedure.
What the task force didn’t reveal is wait times for those procedures have increased since last year, according to Manitoba Health figures updated Feb. 22.
The average wait time for an MRI across the province increased to 22 weeks in January from 19 in December. Wait times increased at seven of nine locations across the province, including a significant jump at Pan Am Clinic (where MacDonald works as the chief innovation and research officer) from 18 to 26 weeks. It’s the longest Manitobans have had to wait for an MRI since May 2021, when the average wait time was 24 weeks.
Wait times for CT scans increased from 17 to 19 weeks between December and January (the highest since July) and from 17 to 20 weeks for ultrasounds (the highest since August).
Wait times for bone density scans and myocardial perfusion tests (which show how blood flows to the heart muscle) also increased in January.
Diagnostic testing is used largely to diagnose disease and injury in patients and is often critical in establishing treatment plans. Long wait times can lead to delays in treatment.
Manitoba Health data show the number of diagnostic procedures performed has not increased since last year. The number of monthly MRI scans in 2021 ranged from about 7,500 to 8,000. In January, 7,724 scans were performed.
There were 19,978 CT scans performed in January, down from 21,251 in December – the lowest since February 2021. Also, the number of ultrasound exams fell to 16,040 in January from 17,075 in December.
Meanwhile, wait times for some surgeries, including hip and knee replacement, fell in January but were still higher than they were in mid-2021. The total number of hip and knee surgeries performed in January fell to 245 from 392 in December (well below the monthly average of 333 surgeries in 2021). The number of cataract surgeries also fell in January to 896, down from 944 in December and below the monthly average of 1,132 in 2021.
None of these data were included in the task force’s update Friday, nor did the health minister or task force members make themselves available to answer questions about them.
This is pure incompetence. Gordon said Thursday the task force hasn’t provided Manitobans with monthly updates (as promised in December) because they didn’t want to give the public “false hope” by announcing something that didn’t contain “substantial information.”
Instead, she gave Manitobans false hope Thursday substantial progress would be announced Friday. It wasn’t.
Gordon then changed her excuse: she claimed Friday, through a spokesman, she was limited in what she could announce, owing to the blackout on advertising leading up to the March 22 byelection in Fort Whyte — a ban that clearly doesn’t apply to ongoing government programs.
The train wreck continues.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.