Doctors Manitoba renews call for action as surgery backlog grows in province

Doctors Manitoba is renewing its calls to address the "staggering backlog" as new data suggests Manitoba had a greater drop in surgical procedures during the second wave of the pandemic than any other province.

Manitoba leads the country in delayed surgeries, new data from CIHI says

A close-up of a patient's hand as they lay in a medical bed. A health-care worker wearing a gown and gloves attends to them.
The result of a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act request filed by the NDP suggests the province spent under $2.5 million five months after committing $50 million to clearing Manitoba's surgery backlog. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Doctors Manitoba is renewing its calls to address the "staggering backlog" of postponed surgeries as new data suggests Manitoba had a greater drop in surgical procedures during the second wave of the pandemic than any other province.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information released a report on Thursday on the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many provinces cancelled planned surgeries in an attempt to save hospital resources for those with the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

The data suggests Manitoba was the only province that experienced a significant decrease in surgical volumes during the period of October to December 2020. There was a 29 per cent decrease in surgical volumes in Manitoba during that time compared to an average four per cent decrease across Canada, the report says.

"I work in the emergency room at St. Boniface and I see a lot of patients who are in pain, who are suffering, who have been waiting,"  said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, the president of Doctors Manitoba.

"They're coming to the ER to get temporary Band-Aid solutions waiting for their definitive treatment with the cardiologists and specialists."

Dr. Kristjan Thompson is an emergency physician and president of Doctors Manitoba. He says he's seen many patients come in for 'Band-Aid solutions' for issues that could be solved with surgeries or procedures postponed due to the pandemic. (Submitted by Doctors Manitoba)

CIHI data says Manitoba experienced a decrease of 18,398 surgical procedures in the first 10 months of the pandemic, a 22 per cent decrease from the same months in 2019.

There was an 11 per cent decrease in cardiac surgeries and an eight per cent decrease in cancer surgeries.

Doctors Manitoba, which represents physicians in the province, said the CIHI report validates its own report on surgical backlogs in the province, which estimates there are 39,000 procedures that have been postponed since the pandemic began until May 2021. 

There's also a backlog of 44,000 diagnostic imaging tests and 32,000 other procedures, like endoscopies and mammograms, the release says.

Thompson said his organization is renewing its call for immediate action to address the backlog of surgeries and diagnostic tests as quickly as possible, which he says is urgently needed.

He said one of his patients with an irregular heartbeat has had to be shocked five times while waiting for a procedure postponed due to the pandemic.

The Doctors Manitoba report made three recommendations to the province to address the backlog:

  • Commit to a fixed date to bring the health-care system back up to speed.
  • Create a surgery and diagnostic recovery task force.
  • Provide monthly reports on progress, including the size of the backlog.

Thompson said talks with the province have been productive so far, but more needs to be done.

"This issue needs to be addressed now. The first step is recognizing that this is the problem," Thompson said.

Of the thousands of doctors the organization represents, many are willing to roll up their sleeves and do extra work to lessen the backlog, he added.

"The physicians in Manitoba are ready ... to get this problem solved."

The province is looking into the recommendations made by Doctors Manitoba, Health Minister Heather Stefanson said at a press conference Thursday, where she announced an initiative to help internationally educated nurses get licensed in Manitoba.

"We certainly share the same priorities when it comes to dealing with the surgical backlog as well as the diagnostic backlog, and we'll work with Doctors Manitoba and other stakeholders out there," she said.

Stefanson said she will soon receive a briefing from officials at Shared Health, which has tried to ensure hospitals continue conducting urgent cardiac, trauma and cancer surgeries, sometimes by moving procedures from Winnipeg to Selkirk and Ste. Anne.

Shared Health said in a statement it estimates about 30,000 surgeries were postponed, but that doesn't count procedures that were not even scheduled due to a lack of resources. 

Shared Health said it is slowly increasing surgical capacity as COVID hospitalizations drop.

"Additional surgical slates have been added this week at Grace Hospital, Pan Am Clinic, and Misericordia Health Centre," Shared Health said in a statement.

"More substantive plans to address the surgical backlog created by COVID-19 are being developed in collaboration with the provincial government and will be announced soon."

Surgery backlog grows in Manitoba

2 years ago
Duration 1:56
Featured VideoDoctors Manitoba is renewing its calls to address the "staggering backlog" of postponed surgeries as new data suggests Manitoba had a greater drop in surgical procedures during the second wave of the pandemic than any other province.

With files from Bartley Kives