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Delayed wait-list tracker adds insult to injury for Manitobans awaiting help

There may be a reason why the Stefanson government still hasn’t posted its long-awaited online dashboard to measure hospital wait times: the numbers just took a turn for the worse.

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Opinion

There may be a reason why the Stefanson government still hasn’t posted its long-awaited online dashboard to measure hospital wait times: the numbers just took a turn for the worse.

After a slight improvement in July, wait times for hip and knee surgeries grew again in August, according to data released by Manitoba Health this week. The median wait time for all hip and knee surgeries jumped to 42 weeks in August, up from 35 weeks the previous month. It’s the third-highest monthly wait time over the past year. It means half of patients are waiting longer and half are getting their surgeries sooner.

It’s not for a lack of surgical output at hospitals. A total of 506 hip and knee procedures were completed in August, the second-highest monthly figure over the past year. The problem is the backlog created during the COVID-19 pandemic, when thousands of surgeries were cancelled, postponed or not booked at all during the height of the crisis. Even though operating rooms are performing at or above pre-pandemic levels, wait lists continue to climb because of the pent-up demand created during the pandemic.

The longest wait times for hip and knee procedures is at Grace Hospital, where the median wait time has soared to 60 weeks. That’s the highest it’s been in at least five years. In 2019, the year before the pandemic, the median wait time at Grace was 26.5 weeks. Overall, the wait time in 2019 in Manitoba was 24.8 weeks. The province has a long way to go to bring wait lists back to pre-pandemic levels.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The longest wait times for hip and knee procedures is at Grace Hospital, where the median wait time has soared to 60 weeks.

Meanwhile, the Stefanson government has been criticized for the lengthy delay in posting an online dashboard, where Manitobans can easily track wait times, the number of people waiting for procedures, and up-to-date data on procedures completed each month. The province promised to have it up and running by summer. It was later delayed until September, but it’s still not ready. There’s no estimate on when it will launch.

Most of the statistics expected to be included in the dashboard are already available on the Manitoba Health website, but they’re not easily accessible to the public. The Manitoba Health data is also not posted in a timely manner. Monthly statistics are typically released about five weeks after the end of each month. The figures are already outdated once released. People want to know what the wait times are now, not what they were in August.

There are other problems with the statistics the dashboard will hopefully address. There are no provincial averages to compare diagnostic testing, such as MRIs and CT scans, from month to month. Manitoba Health used to provide that information but stopped. The data is now presented only by individual hospitals. That should continue, but a provincial average is needed to track overall progress.

Also, the wait time data for cataract surgeries is misleading and should be fixed. The published wait times represent the combined average for both eyes. The wait time for the first eye, usually a year or more, is typically much longer than the second. Once the first eye is done, the second is usually completed within a few weeks. The real wait time is how long it takes for the first eye. Yet, Manitoba Health combines the two and gives the average for both. A one-year wait for the first eye and a one-month wait for the second is presented as a 28-week wait, which is misleading.

It’s time to launch the new dashboard so all Manitobans can track wait times more closely. It shouldn’t take this long.

The Manitoba Health wait-time data only includes a narrow range of procedures: hip and knee surgeries, diagnostic tests, cancer treatment and cardiac surgery. There are hundreds of other procedures people are waiting for that aren’t included. In some cases, that’s because there is no centralized wait list to draw from. Hopefully, the dashboard will include a broader range of procedures.

Manitoba Health’s historical data online also goes back only 13 months. The Free Press has obtained statistics that go back to 2017, so trends can be tracked over time. However, that data should be available on the government website and updated regularly.

It’s time to launch the new dashboard so all Manitobans can track wait times more closely. It shouldn’t take this long.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

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

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