Quebec surgeries pick up speed as province tackles pandemic backlog

Quebec hospitals are clearing the surgery backlog from the pandemic while looking to the private sector for help.

For 1st time since beginning of pandemic, surgical activity back to normal in province

Quebec health boards are hoping private clinics can help lessen the surgery backlog. (Radio-Canada)

Surgical activities in Quebec returned to 100 per cent at the end of June for the first time since the start of the pandemic, months ahead of the government's goal.

Deputy Health Minister Dr. Lucy Opatrny says the first wave of COVID-19 caused an overall drop in surgeries in spring 2020.

"We went from an average number of 34,000 to 6,000 surgeries per month," Opatrny said. Orthopedics and ophthalmology were particularly hard hit.

According to data from the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS), the rate of surgical activities was above the 100 per cent mark for the first time at the end of June, after having fluctuated between 80 and 90 per cent in previous weeks.

Many regions even show a level of activity above 100 per cent.

In early June, Health Minister Christian Dubé unveiled his two-year plan to ramp up surgical activities and reduce the number of patients on the waiting list, which currently exceeds 145,000.

One of the first goals was to resume surgeries at a similar level to that before the pandemic by October 2021.

Going private

But clearing the backlog has meant turning to help from the private sector.

The Laval health board — the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux (CISSS de Laval) —  currently has the highest rate of surgical catch up in the province, at 137 per cent of normal activity.

But it is also the region that is relying most heavily on the private sector. Nearly six out of 10 surgeries are scheduled at specialized medical centres.

Dr. Alain Turcotte, director of professional services at the CISSS de Laval, says the board had experience working with specialized clinics before COVID-19 for ophthalmology and cataract surgeries.

"When the minister decreed in June [2020] that we could sign agreement contracts with specialized clinics, it was easy for us to come to an understanding and we went to seek additional operating days to better respond to the needs of the population," he said.

He says discussions are continuing so the private sector can take on "slightly heavier cases," which would make it possible to increase the number of patients able to have surgery.

"My waiting list [in the hospital] for patients who need to be hospitalized after surgery will be my challenge for the next few months."

based on a report by Radio-Canada's Daniel Boily