Surgical, diagnostic backlog surpasses 152,000 cases in Manitoba, doctors' group says

Doctors Manitoba says its latest estimate of the surgical and diagnostic backlog that has accumulated in Manitoba during the COVID-19 pandemic now surpasses 152,000 cases.

'Our health system is again at a tipping point': Doctors Manitoba

The total estimated pandemic backlog in Manitoba for surgeries and diagnostics is now 152,116 cases, an increase of 6,675 over last month, Doctors Manitoba says. (MAD.vertise/Shutterstock)

Doctors Manitoba says its latest estimate of the surgical and diagnostic backlog that has accumulated in Manitoba during the COVID-19 pandemic now surpasses 152,000 cases.

The new backlog estimate, released on Tuesday, has also been posted on an online dashboard, which the physicians' organization will continue to update each month until more comprehensive reporting is available from the health system itself.

The total backlog is now 152,116 cases, an increase of 6,675 over last month's estimate.

The backlog is made up of:

  • 56,181 surgeries (an increase of 2,376 since last month).
  • 42,931 diagnostic imaging procedures, such as MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds (up 3,230 tests since last month).
  • 53,004 other diagnostic procedures, including allergy tests, endoscopies, mammograms and sleep disorder studies (an increase of 1,069 cases).

"This is a new high and frankly, it's very concerning," said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, president of Doctors Manitoba and an emergency medicine physician at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg.

Of particular concern is the cancellation of cardiac surgeries because of the growing pressure on intensive care units due to COVID-19 patients, he said.

"Making these patients wait and delaying their definitive care suggests that our health system is again at a tipping point. It's a sign that our ICUs are in danger of being overwhelmed."

During the pandemic, there have been 208 fewer cardiac surgeries performed compared to normal pre-pandemic volumes, the group said. 

The increase in backlogged diagnostic imaging tests is largely because this estimate, unlike earlier estimates, includes another procedure that has faced significant disruptions during the pandemic — bone density tests.

Doctors Manitoba estimates there have been 3,708 fewer bone density tests conducted during the pandemic.

Dr. Kristjan Thompson says many of the concerns about backlogs were in place prior to the pandemic, which has only added to the pressure. (Doctors Manitoba/Zoom)

In essence, bone density tests measure the strength of your bones, which is vital to diagnose osteoporosis, Doctors Manitoba said in a news release issued on Tuesday.

"These tests help physicians offer medical advice and potential treatments that can help prevent fractures and other health issues."

Doctors Manitoba is still consulting with physicians about other procedures or tests that have been disrupted. If any others are identified as having reduced volumes or a growing wait list, they will be added to the backlog estimate.

The group is repeating its urgent recommendations to the province to create a task force to provide oversight and address the backlog, set a target date to clear the backlog, and provide comprehensive, monthly reporting to monitor that progress.

Premier Heather Stefanson has said clearing that backlog — which has driven some patients to seek options in other provinces, or even other countries — is her first priority.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said Friday that the province will be adopting the three recommendations from Doctors Manitoba regarding the timeline, public reporting on its progress and establishing a task force.

"We are going to move ahead with those three commitments," Gordon said at the time.

The government announced the creation of a task force weeks ago, but has yet to announce any further information about it.

Those details are expected to come this week, Gordon said.

Thompson said there are two types of task forces — those that study a problem and issue recommendations, and those that are action-oriented, charged with solving major problems.

"What we need is the latter," he said, putting the magnitude of clearing the backlog on par with what was required to vaccinate Manitobans from COVID-19.

"This task force must have a clear mandate with requisite authority. It must be able to quickly mobilize resources, and it must have the right membership to get the job done."

These are things health-care professionals were asking for even before the pandemic, and the pressure has only grown since, Thompson said.

"What we're seeing is a workforce, a human resource pool, that is burned out, that is tired, that really needs support from government and needs to know what the plan is," he said.

"We've been working shorthanded for far too long. Seeing these patients in pain, who are suffering, who are waiting in fear and uncertainty, it really does take its toll."


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.


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