Manitoba awards contracts to 2 private, 3 public health-care facilities to deal with surgery backlog

The Manitoba government has awarded five contracts worth a total of $2.5 million to health-care facilities that will help tackle a backlog of surgeries delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Manitoba will spend $2.5M to deal with surgeries delayed due to COVID-19 starting in September

Three public health-care facilities and two private ones will begin providing additional surgeries and procedures in September to deal with the backlog, the Manitoba government said Monday. (MAD.vertise/Shutterstock)

The Manitoba government has awarded five contracts worth a total of $2.5 million to health-care facilities that will help tackle a backlog of surgeries delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three public centres and two private ones will begin the surgeries in early September, the province said in a news release Monday.

The Health Sciences Centre, Pan Am Clinic and CancerCare Manitoba, as well as the privately-run Maples Surgical Centre and LifeSmart Health Cardio 1, will offer a range of procedures and exams, a provincial spokesperson said.

Those include echocardiogram exams, urology procedures, orthopedic spine procedures and foot and hand surgeries.

The contracts were awarded following a request for proposals (RFP) in July that sought "innovative solutions" from public and private health-care providers to deal with thousands of elective surgeries that were postponed earlier this year.

Manitoba suspended elective surgeries on March 16 in response to COVID-19, and allowed them to resume on April 24. But as of June 10, roughly 5,500 Manitoba patients were still waiting for procedures that got postponed, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said when he announced the RFP in July.

By March 2021, the government expects to have rescheduled roughly 4,000 surgical procedures and 4,000 imaging exams, the province said in the Monday news release.

"Manitoba initiated a solutions-based approach to expand health system capacity," Friesen said in the news release Monday. "We are expanding on existing arrangements with service providers and inviting new providers in focusing on the goal of putting the patient first."

An effort to 'fragment and privatize'

A Manitoba health-care advocacy group has criticized the Progressive Conservative government's plan as an opaque effort to privatize the province's health care.

Brianne Goertzen, provincial director of the Manitoba Health Coalition, said the RFP process has lacked transparency and accountability, and criticized the government for not being forthcoming about the successful applicants. The government release sent out Monday did not include a list of which facilities were awarded the contracts.

A spokesperson provided that information to CBC News upon a request.

Goertzen said the inclusion of privately-run facilities chips away at the public health system in the midst of a pandemic that has highlighted its importance.

"Instead of looking to fragment and privatize our public health system through private surgeries, we urge the government to invest in building greater capacity in our public health system," she said in the release.

NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara, also the party's health critic, said the government's approach will make essential health care harder to access for some families.

"Not only are the majority of these signed contracts for services outside of the scope of the province's RFP but the federal government has already warned the Pallister government that these kinds of contracts violate the spirit of the Canada Health Act, which protects universal health care in our country," Asagwara said in an emailed statement Monday.

The approach could create a two-tiered health-care system, Asagwara warned.

The Manitoba government says additional contracts will be awarded to deal with postponed surgeries in the coming months.