Thousands of Quebec patients waiting for surgery in wake of 5th wave

With public health experts saying the fifth wave is subsiding, attention is being focused on the huge number of backlogged surgeries left in its wake.

Montreal public health officials look to cut waiting list in half by 2023

The longest waiting lists are in the Montreal, Quebec City and Montérégie regions, according to Quebec's Ministry of Health. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Karine Dupont has been waiting for a knee replacement at Charles-Le Moyne hospital in Longueuil, Que., since the summer of 2020.

She just saw her surgeon for an update and he told her to be prepared to wait for another two years. 

"I cried all weekend, all the time. I'm so depressed by that because I'm hurting all the time," said Dupont.

With public health experts saying the fifth wave is subsiding, attention in Quebec is being focused on the huge number of backlogged surgeries left in its wake.

At the end of January, nearly 160,000 people were waiting for surgeries across the province. Many of those surgeries are considered non-urgent, but many others mean people like Dupont are waiting in pain.

"I'm waiting and I'm waiting, waiting," she said.

Dupont said her doctor told her because she's overweight, she'll  have to spend at least one night in hospital following her operation, but due to a lack of beds and nursing staff, that isn't possible right now.

"It's not possible to wait two years more," she said.

According to Quebec's Ministry of Health, about 3,500 patients in Quebec have been waiting for surgery for more than two years.

Montérégie, where Dupont is waiting on Montreal's South Shore, is among three regions in Quebec with the longest wait times. Quebec City and Montreal also have substantial wait times, the ministry says.

In Montreal, health officials are looking to cut the waiting list in half by April of 2023.

"The health network is doing better, which will allow us to begin addressing wait times for surgeries," said Sonia Bélanger, president and executive director of the regional health board for Centre-Sud-de-l'Île-de-Montréal, during a news conference Wednesday.

To do that, Belanger said they'll have to retrain other staff — like licensed practical nurses — to work in operating rooms, and that takes time.

Just north of Montreal in Laval, the local health agency has opened 10 of its 11 operating rooms in the Cité-de-la-Santé hospital. 

"Various actions are underway to open 100 per cent of the operating rooms at the Cité-de-la-Santé hospital after spring break," said spokesperson Marie-Eve Despatie-Gagnon in an email.

The CISSS de Laval is taking steps to catch up on surgeries, such as teaming up with specialized clinics to offer more surgeries each week, she said.

Dr. Jean-François Joncas, an orthopedic surgeon and head of the Association d'orthopédie du Québec, said he's worried patients waiting in pain could turn to narcotics for relief.

He said that could lead to them getting addicted, and then make their recovery even more challenging. 

"I guess we are going to have to work in the evenings, and on weekends," he said.

Until then, Dupont said she is waiting for the day she can once again live an active life with her family, rather than spend her days in pain.

"It's an injustice," Dupont said.

with files from Simon Nakonechny


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