Quebec looks to reduce surgery backlog as waitlist nears 150,000 patients

The Legault government is aiming to reduce the province’s surgery waiting list to 100,000 patients by March 2023. That would be lower than pre-pandemic, when the list hit 125,000 names.

Health minister says influx of patients during pandemic increased surgery wait

Health Minister Christian Dubé said the first step will be to stabilize the list by the end of the year, but the number won’t start to fall until 2022. ( Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada)

The Legault government is aiming to reduce the province's surgery waitlist to a mere 100,000 patients by March 2023. 

That would be lower than pre-pandemic numbers, when the list hit 125,000 names, but the influx of COVID-19 patients lengthened wait times even more as 50 per cent of operations — about 30,000 in all — were postponed.

Now there are about 145,000 people on the waiting list and Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said on Thursday that there will be about 150,000 patients facing delays by October.

Dubé said the first step will be to stabilize the list by the end of the year, but the number won't start to fall until 2022.

"Perhaps the timeline may seem — sometimes, in some cases — distant. And we are aware of that. But I think it's still our job, our role, to be realistic," the health minister said.

The goal is to be performing some 40,000 surgeries per month by March 2023. Currently, that number hovers around 26,000 and was up to 34,000 before the pandemic.

Before COVID-19 hit Quebec, about 4,000 patients were stuck waiting for more than a year for surgery. Now, there are 19,000 waiting for more than a year. 

Private clinics will continue to be called upon to help reach the province's goals, said Dr. Lucie Opatrny, Quebec's associate deputy health minister and the province's top hospital official.

The government has already entered into agreements with 25 external partners to relieve congestion in the public sector, she said. Most of those agreements are for two years, she said.

During the first wave of the pandemic, British Columbia stood out by managing to contain the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes, while Quebec clearly struggled.

However, the Pacific province distinguished itself by its management of waiting times for surgeries, having kept wait times low by ensuring there were enough doctors in place — hiring from within Canada and from abroad.

"We have a provincial agency that is successfully recruiting physicians [from] elsewhere in Canada, but primarily outside the country," said Michael Marchbank earlier this week

He leads the overall management and delivery of health programs and services for B.C.'s Academic Health Science Network. He said dozens of doctors and hundreds of nurses were recruited this way.

Ninety per cent of B.C. patients whose surgeries were delayed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring were able to have their procedures finished by late November, officials said in January

WATCH | Orthopedic surgeon explains consequences of longer wait times

Jewish General Hospital's Dr. David Zukor says longer waits mean patients are suffering

CBC News: Montreal at 6:00

3 days ago
The Montreal Jewish General Hospital's Chief of Orthopedic Surgery Dr. David Zukor reacts to the province's strategy to cut surgical wait times worsened the pandemic 3:25

with files from Radio-Canada


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 Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?