More than 152,000 surgeries and diagnostic tests have now been delayed in Manitoba, as the province is set to explain Wednesday how it will address the massive backlog.
Doctors Manitoba said Tuesday 2,300 surgeries were postponed last month alone.
"This is a new high and frankly it’s very concerning," president Dr. Kristjan Thompson said. "The magnitude of this problem… is a significant task."
As of Tuesday, Doctors Manitoba estimated 56,181 surgeries, 42,931 diagnostic imaging procedures, and 53,004 other diagnostic procedures, including endoscopies and mammograms had been delayed.
The record-setting estimate was released one day before Health Minister Audrey Gordon is scheduled to release details about her government’s long-promised task force that must find ways to whittle down the massive backlog.
Thompson called on the government to give the task force a "clear mandate with requisite authority."
"It must be able to quickly mobilize resources. It must have the right membership to get the job done, and that includes not just health system leaders, but front-line physicians and other experts," Thompson said.
He pointed to British Columbia’s success tackling pandemic-driven surgical delays, which helped to inform his organization’s recommendations to the province.
In May 2020, British Columbia announced a committee and plan to perform procedures for nearly 15,000 patients whose surgeries were delayed in the first pandemic wave.
"It (the task force) must have the right membership to get the job done, and that includes not just health system leaders, but front–line physicians and other experts.” – Dr. Kristjan Thompson
By late July this year, B.C. reported nearly all of those surgeries had been completed and 79 per cent of surgeries postponed in the second and third waves had also been performed.
B.C. has hired 69 additional surgeons, 81 anesthesiologists, and hundreds more nurses — including 710 perioperative nurses — since April 2020, while increasing operating room time and capacity, the spokesman said.
In Manitoba, under-staffing will be the main bottleneck, Thompson said, and addressing the surgical backlog will take "complicated and multi-factorial and layered solution."
However, sending patients out of province for surgery should be a last resort, Thompson said.
"Physicians, surgeons are willing to work extra, extra (operating room) times, work on weekends, do whatever it takes to address it, but we want to make sure that we’re treating Manitoba patients inside Manitoba," Thompson said.
Retired family physician Philippe Erhard said the consequences of the massive surgical backlog is now being felt in the examination room, where doctors can only offer temporary solutions to patients who are suffering, often in significant pain.
"It’s a terrible thing for a family physician," said Erhard, who practised for decades at the Pan Am Clinic and St. Boniface Clinic. "You see the patient suffering, you’re helpless and that contributes to the general burnout of the family physicians.
"Whether it’s personal or professional, you feel helpless," Erhard said. "It’s a scary thing, because we can all potentially join this waiting list."
To deal with the backlog, Erhard said the government and task force must consider offering a larger suite of surgeries through local, private providers at no cost to patients.
Reimbursement for patients already on waitlists who get surgery outside of Manitoba should also be considered, as long as the government is unable to provide services in a timely way, Erhard said.
“It’s a terrible thing for a family physician. You see the patient suffering, you’re helpless and that contributes to the general burnout of the family physicians." – Retired family physician Philippe Erhard
"I wouldn’t want to be faced with a decision like that myself," he conceded. "But at the same time, if I have to stay three years in a bed trying to survive with pain, I would explore this option."
Gordon has said she wants to see quick action to clear the backlog and described the task force as "results-oriented."
She had promised to reveal the makeup of the task force and her government’s plans by Dec. 3, but said she had to delay the announcement to accommodate the schedule of participating surgeons.
It’s expected the task force will report publicly on its progress and set time frames for clearing the total backlog. Results of the province’s latest round of public tenders for surgical services will also be shared.
"We feel that the proposals that have come forward will give us an opportunity to be able to meet the needs that Manitobans have very, very quickly," Gordon said last week.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.