Manitoba boosting surgical and diagnostic capacity but not committing to timeframe to clear backlog

Manitobans waiting for delayed surgical and diagnostic procedures got an update Wednesday on the province’s work to clear the backlog but not everyone got the answers they wanted to hear.

The news came as a Surgical and Diagnostic Recovery Task Force put together by the province’s Progressive Conservative government to fix the problem gave its first progress update in weeks.

The government announced it’ll support a $700,000 expansion to increase surgical capacity at Concordia Hospital at an annual operating cost of $4.9 million.

“Our government is supporting the expansion of the orthopedic surgery program to add a fifth operating room, including operational support to expand capacity,” Audrey Gordon, Manitoba’s health minister, told a news conference at the Concordia Hip and Knee Institute.

Dr. Peter MacDonald, chair of the task force steering committee, said the province is currently able to perform about 5,000 hip and knee surgeries on an annual basis. MacDonald said the expansion of the orthopedic surgery program will boost capacity by an additional 1,000 surgeries per year.

“We do acknowledge that the number of surgeries is well behind here for this year and what we’re talking about, the additional 1,000 (surgeries) being after we’re back to base line,” MacDonald said. “Our goal is to get wait times back to the 2019 levels, pre-COVID.”

MacDonald said an additional orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hip and knee procedures will be recruited, four inpatient beds will be added and investments will be made in anesthesia staff.

But there’s no clear timeline on when the province will get caught up on all the procedures Manitobans want done.

The advocacy group Doctors Manitoba estimates more than 167,000 procedures have been delayed by COVID-19 pressures such as staffing reassignments and bed reallocations.

“Yet again Manitobans are left waiting,” said Uzoma Asagwara, the Opposition NDP health critic. “Thousands, unfortunately, continue to wait in pain with no end date in sight.”

The latest provincial data shows the median wait time for hip and knee surgeries is 28 weeks. There have been just over 3,300 surgeries performed as of January for this fiscal year, while just over 3,900 were performed during the first year of the pandemic.

Kristyne Ford, 39, of Thompson, Man. has a labral tear and an impingement of bones in her hip. It’s an injury doctors told the avid snowmobiler her hobby may have caused and one that requires surgery to fix.

“It’s not fun,” Ford said. “It’s quite painful some days…debilitating. It’s hard to walk around sometimes but you just kind of learn to live with it.”

Other Manitobans told CTV Winnipeg they’re expecting a one-and-a-half to two-year wait for a hip replacement.

Ford said the expected six-month wait for her procedure is much shorter but she said just getting an appointment with a surgeon is where she faced delays.

“I actually thought I was going to be waiting a lot longer so I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Ford said.

The province also said it’s increasing capacity at the Spine Assessment Clinic at Health Sciences Centre and plans to offer more spine surgeries at Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota. So far, nine Manitobans have been operated on as part of a special referral program, including Valerie Parish of Marquette, Man. who waited two and a half years for surgery while living with disc degenerative disease.

“Here I am three and a half weeks after surgery and I’m able to do things around the house,” said Parish, who was invited to speak at the news conference. “Still need some help, wear my back brace and I’m doing quite well.”

Doctors Manitoba said it’s encouraged by the steps the province is taking but adds more work and investment will be needed to clear the backlog.

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals sees the addition of new diagnostic equipment as a positive but said more needs to be done to increase staffing levels to make sure there are people available to operate the machines.

A provincial spokesperson said once installed, the units will be staffed accordingly.

The province said other initiatives to shorten wait times are also being worked on, adding that as it moves forward with other initiatives it’ll have a better idea of the timeframe and wait times moving forward.

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