Editorial

Creation of a surgery and diagnostic recovery task force was a sound idea back on June 17, when Doctors Manitoba, the province’s medical association, first proposed it. The professional body was concerned because the backlog of patients awaiting surgery and diagnostic tests had swelled to 110,000 on account of staff shortages and heavy traffic of COVID-19 patients.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/12/2021 (211 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Creation of a surgery and diagnostic recovery task force was a sound idea back on June 17, when Doctors Manitoba, the province’s medical association, first proposed it. The professional body was concerned because the backlog of patients awaiting surgery and diagnostic tests had swelled to 110,000 on account of staff shortages and heavy traffic of COVID-19 patients.

Premier Heather Stefanson, who was then health minister, disregarded the advice at that time. The third wave of the pandemic was ebbing in June. Manitoba’s COVID-19 patients were no longer being shipped to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario for the intensive care that was unavailable in Manitoba. The government was hoping for the best.

Now, the fourth wave is upon us. The surgery and diagnostic backlog has grown to 130,000 patients, by the medical association’s estimate. Since she was sworn in as premier on Nov. 2, Ms. Stefanson has repeatedly said she would create the task force that was needed in June. Now here we are in the second week of December, and she still intends to create the task force.

Since she was sworn in as premier on Nov. 2, Ms. Stefanson has repeatedly said she would create the task force that was needed in June. Now here we are in the second week of December, and she still intends to create the task force.

Had the recovery effort been started in June, Manitoba might not now be shuffling patients around hospitals, sometimes far from their home communities, to make room for COVID-19 patients. Hospitals might not now be delaying procedures for patients with heart disease who are growing sicker every day they are kept waiting for surgery.

The staff shortages arise in part from the cost-cutting health system transformation imposed in 2019, when Cameron Friesen was minister of health. The new administrative structure of Shared Health Manitoba was created, selected hospital units were closed and staff were re-assigned.

Nurses, tired of being jerked around and required to work extra shifts, have been retiring from the profession, leaving many nursing posts vacant. In the Southern Health region, about one-fifth of nursing positions are unstaffed.

<p>THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p><p>Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

Without waiting for her task force to take shape, Ms. Stefanson has already decided to expand nursing education and to send more student nurses into the hospitals. She will also try to speed local registration of foreign-trained nurses. This would ensure that nurses on the wards, in addition to caring for patients, will also have to supervise and train the nursing students and registration candidates working beside them.

Patients seeking surgical relief from their malfunctioning hearts and their deteriorating knee and hip joints will have to wait many months to see results from these measures. The damage done to Manitoba health care by the last burst of reform plans is too deep to be quickly reversed.

Ms. Stefanson promised the task force on surgical backlogs when she was sworn in as premier on Nov. 2. She promised it again in the speech from the throne on Nov. 23, and again in her State of the Province address to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 2. All this while, the hospitals have continued reducing their service to patients for want of nurses and therapists to provide the care.

A task force is not a solution to a shortage of nurses. Task forces do not care for patients. Creating a task force may be a means of appearing to do something. It may be a means of managing the scarcity of health professionals that Ms. Stefanson and her colleagues brought about two years ago. It will be cold comfort to the patients who are learning these days that Manitoba’s hospitals cannot help them.