Manitoba’s health minister refused to speak to reporters after the NDP revealed the government spent less than five per cent of the $50 million it had budgeted to address the massive backlog of surgeries and diagnostic procedures as of Aug. 30.
Instead, the office of Health Minister Audrey Gordon released a statement about how her government plans to tackle the backlog, which was estimated at 110,000 procedures, including 39,000 surgeries, by Doctors Manitoba this summer.
The NDP raised the issue Tuesday, saying just $2.46 million had been spent toward reducing backlogs that have made life difficult for tens of thousands of Manitobans.
"We all know that Manitobans are struggling as of the result of the surgical backlog," NDP Leader Wab Kinew said after question period.
"In some cases, people are dealing with illnesses that you or I would think are very, very serious or life-threatening," Kinew told reporters as he shared a freedom of information request that shows the province has underspent on its promised $50 million to address the backlog.
The Tories promised to spend that amount at a news conference held by then-premier Brian Pallister on March 31.
A statement from Gordon’s office Tuesday said after preparing for the fourth wave of COVID-19, dealing with the severe backlog is the province’s main priority.
Gordon was not made available for an interview but her press secretary, Draper Houston, outlined in an email what her department is doing to resolve the backlog.
It said that in 2020-21, $4.2 million was spent to address the backlog and, so far this fiscal year, $8.1 million has been spent on 8,300 procedures.
Manitoba has contracted with five organizations and partners to perform more than 11,000 additional procedures, the press secretary said. They include the Pan Am Clinic for hand and foot procedures; Western Surgery Centre for cataracts; pediatric dental, and plastic surgery; Cancer Care Manitoba for urology; Vision Group for cataracts; and Maples Surgical Centre for general surgery, and ear, nose and throat procedures.
As of Oct. 4, the province issued its fifth request-for-supply arrangement for surgical services to address the backlog due to COVID-19, he said.
"All jurisdictions are experiencing surgical slowdowns as a result of COVID," he said. "This problem is not unique to Manitoba."
Kinew said the province hasn’t addressed its nursing shortage or prepared adequately for the second, third or fourth waves of the pandemic. Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the Tories have mismanaged surgeries and procedures, and contributed to the backlog.
"There’s an artificial cap on operations," said Lamont. "There are orthopedic surgeons who’ve said ‘we can be operating more, I just need more operating room time,’" he said.
"If they’re provided with supplies, they could be doing hundreds more surgeries a year and the same thing is true with cataract surgeries," Lamont said. "They’ve done a terrible job managing it. It has to be more deliberate."
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.