Manitoba gov’t celebrates shrinking surgery wait list, takes heat on health care, supervised consumption sites

Manitoba has eliminated its pandemic surgery backlog for one procedure, but that doesn’t mean nobody is waiting for cataract surgeries anymore. 

During question period on Wednesday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon boasted of the government clearing the wait list of more than 1,200 people whose cataract surgeries were delayed because of the pandemic.

It is the first procedure for which the force tasked with eliminating the surgical and diagnostic backlog has met its goal thus far.

The government said in a statement that 11,000 surgeries to restore people’s sight have been completed this year. It isn’t known if that includes the entirety of the backlog, including those individuals who were waiting before the pandemic.

Regardless, Gordon said the task force wouldn’t rest on clearing the pandemic backlog alone. More people are continuing to need these procedures, she said.

“The surgical and diagnostic task force would immediately begin to have those conversations with the service delivery organization,” she said

More private partnerships considered

Some of those cataract surgeries were handled by private health-care partners. The Progressive Conservative government signalled in its throne speech Tuesday it wanted to explore more using private partnerships within Manitoba so patients are not sent elsewhere for care, which is happening to clear the surgery backlog. 

The NDP and Liberals decried the government’s strategy as a sign the health-care system will be privatized.

“More big business involved in your health care? We say that’s wrong,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Wednesday in question period.

“We’ll always stand up for public health care.”

Kinew argued the government was following the privatization lead of former premier Brian Pallister, while current Premier Heather Stefanson criticized the NDP for dismissing the quickest solution for patients in need now.

“What is very, very abundantly clear to Manitobans is that the NDP and this leader of the Opposition would put their ideology over patient care every day,” Stefanson said.

She has said the province would continue to cover the tab for these procedures.

In the throne speech, the Tories said other provinces have “demonstrated that a blended public-private delivery system works” in health care, but Manitoba — which has several agreements, including with the local Maples and Western surgical centres — has lagged behind.

No supervised consumption sites in California

In another wedge issue between the two parties, the NDP took the government to task for its continued resistance to supervised consumption sites.

Kinew slammed Stefanson’s appearance last week on CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio when the premier pointed to California’s experience with supervised consumption sites to explain why she does not support the harm reduction approach — even though there are no sanctioned supervised consumption sites in California.

“This is a serious issue, but the premier is basing her government’s decisions on alternative facts,” Kinew said.

Stefanson said in the radio interview that California Gov. Gavin Newsom said there are “unintended consequences” from supervised consumption sites, when in fact the governor was speaking about the potential consequences to an unlimited number of these sites.

On Monday, after an unrelated news conference, Stefanson told CBC News she had inadvertently referenced California when she meant Alberta and other jurisdictions “that are also espousing that same kind of concern with respect to the unintended consequences.”

2019 review of consumption sites in Alberta drew a link between an increase in crime and a supervised consumption site in Calgary, but that review’s methodology has been disputed.

Stefanson’s government has repeatedly said it supports a recovery approach for people coping with addictions and doesn’t see the value in supporting venues in which people consume drugs. 

A group of more than 80 community organizations in Manitoba recently signed an open letter to ask all levels of government to reconsider its opposition. 

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