Doctors Manitoba raises the alarm about surgery backlogs as COVID-19 cases rise

The organization that represents doctors in Manitoba is raising the alarm after the province announced it will postpone surgeries to increase intensive care capacity in the wake of rising COVID-19 numbers.

Surgeries cancelled to create space in intensive care for growing number of COVID-19 patients

Dr. Kristjan Thompson of Doctors Manitoba said he's seeing many unvaccinated COVID-19 positive patients coming into the emergency room at St. Boniface Hospital, where he works. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The organization that represents doctors in Manitoba is raising the alarm after the province announced it will postpone some surgeries to increase intensive care capacity in the wake of rising COVID-19 numbers.

Over the course of the pandemic, roughly 130,000 surgical and diagnostic procedures have been postponed, said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, the president of Doctors Manitoba and an emergency department physician at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg.

"That's not just a number. Those are people. Those are Manitobans. Those are people who are waiting in pain, who are suffering, waiting in uncertainty," he said in an interview on Sunday.

"I can't replace their hips or their knees. I can't take their gallbladder out. I can treat their symptoms, their pain, their nausea, but those are just Band-Aid solutions." 

Of those 130,000 procedures, 52,000 are surgeries, 41,000 are diagnostic imaging procedures (like MRIs, CAT scans and ultrasounds) and 35,000 are other procedures, like endoscopies, mammograms and allergy tests, Doctors Manitoba says.

"This is probably an underestimate, to be honest," Thompson said.

Manitoba became the COVID-19 hot spot among Canada's provinces on Friday, when its running seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 people rose to 84 a week — or 12 cases per 100,000 people a day. 

Dr. Kristjan Thompson, the president of Doctors Manitoba, says roughly 130,000 surgeries and diagnostic procedures have been postponed during the pandemic. He's calling for the province to establish a task force with front-line health-care workers to address the problem. (Submitted by Doctors Manitoba)

As of Friday, there were 145 Manitobans in hospital with COVID-19, including 30 in intensive care.

The plan to cancel surgeries is expected to increase Manitoba's intensive care capacity to 110 from its pre-pandemic baseline capacity of 72.

'All four of them were very sick'

Thompson is seeing the rising COVID-19 related hospitalizations first-hand.

"Last week in one eight-hour shift, I saw four COVID positive patients. All four of them were unvaccinated. All four of them were very sick," he said.

WATCH | Dr. Thompson on working with very ill patients who are unvaccinated:

A day in the St. Boniface Hospital emergency room

1 year ago
Duration 1:42
ER doctor Kristjan Thompson talks about a day where he spoke with an unvaccinated COVID-19 patient.

One man in particular was vocally against the COVID-19 vaccine, Thompson said.

"He who told me, 'I've never been sick. I've never been to the hospital. This is the worst I've ever felt in my entire life,' and he asked me in tears, 'Am I going to die?' And, you know, it was just this devastating, raw human moment, and I did my best to console him," the doctor said.

The man was admitted to intensive care and intubated, the doctor said. He might not have been if he had chosen to be vaccinated, Thompson said.

"We know that the vaccines are safe, they're effective, that they significantly, significantly reduce the risk of severe illness and certainly death. And so I said, 'I really do feel if you were vaccinated, you and I wouldn't be having this conversation today.'"

'Only going to get worse'

This increase in hospitalizations means that others who don't have COVID-19 aren't able to receive timely care, Thompson said.

One of his patients with appendicitis waited in the ER for a full day.

"No one should have to wait 12 hours in agony for that diagnosis to be made." 

Doctors Manitoba is calling on the government to set a date to fix the backlog of surgical and diagnostic procedures, and to create a task force together with front-line health care workers and monthly transparent reporting

"We need all the help we can get. This is a huge problem. It's not going away and it's only getting worse."

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday that a task force will be announced soon to address the backlog. She's also put out a request for service providers to help carry out those procedures.

WATCH | Health Minister Audrey Gordon on the latest public health orders:

New COVID-19 restrictions in Manitoba as province hit with highest infection rate in the country

1 year ago
Duration 7:30
Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon joins CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton to talk about the province implementing stronger restrictions to stem rising COVID-19 cases.

With files from Austin Grabish


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?