Surgical wait times in Manitoba improved last year but still behind national benchmarks: report

While wait times for surgical procedures in Manitoba saw an improvement last year compared with 2020, the province is still lagging behind national benchmarks.

While wait times for surgical procedures in Manitoba saw an improvement last year compared with 2020, the province is still lagging behind national benchmarks.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released its annual wait times report Tuesday morning, and the data shows the province continues to struggle in a number of areas.

According to CIHI’s stats, a little more than half of hip replacements and 38 per cent of knee replacements were meeting the benchmark of 26 weeks — and one in 10 of those patients had to wait well over a year for those procedures.

When it comes to cataract surgery, less than 40 per cent of patients received their operations within the 16-week benchmark last year.

The benchmarks are the time within which it’s medically acceptable for the surgeries to take place.

CIHI’s Tracy Johnson told 680 CJOB that in all provinces, surgeries are not yet back to pre-pandemic levels, but they’re getting close — slowly.

“Now Manitoba’s waits are back around what they were,” Johnson said.

“They’re very similar to what they were pre-pandemic — not quite there, but almost there — trying to get back to what was baseline for Manitoba.”

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While there are positives — including urgent procedures like radiation and hip fracture repairs falling within guidelines for most patients — Johnson said staffing issues across the health-care industry in Canada have certainly not helped matters.

“Given all of the retirements and the people leaving health care during the pandemic due to being fatigued, it’s exacerbated a long-standing problem we have with a lack of personnel across the country,” she said.

The numbers also don’t reflect the arrival of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which arrived in the country shortly after the endpoint of the data collection, so the next set of statistics should be interesting, she said.

Ophthamologist Dr. Jennifer Rahman told Global News she’s concerned cataract surgery wait times were twice the national average.

Rahman said one of the main reasons Manitoba has fallen behind on eye surgeries is that fewer specialists per capita are available to patients than in many other provinces.

“We’re hopeful that the government will give us more funding, let us open a couple of rooms, maybe give us more staffing, nursing staff so that we can get going,” she said.

“But it’s going to be a very uphill battle.”

Rahman said she doesn’t know how long it will take to clear the backlog but estimates it comes out to a year’s worth of work at the Misericordia Health Centre, which is currently capped at about 9,300 cases a year.

Winnipeg’s surgery program surpassed pre-pandemic levels between May 2 and 8, a Manitoba Health spokesperson said in a Tuesday statement to Global News.

“There is no higher health priority than addressing the surgical and diagnostic backlog for our government,” they said.

“Our government committed $110 million to address the pandemic backlog in Budget22.”

All staff who were redeployed due to COVID-19 have returned to their normal duties, as of Monday, they said.

The province adds it’s currently accepting proposals from potential contractors to deal with cataract, endoscopy, general surgery and outpatient spine procedure backlogs.

Five other backlog-related Request for Supply Arrangements (RFSA) are already completed, the spokesperson said.

“We have contracted with organizations and partners to perform over 11,000 procedures through our government’s $50 million investment in Budget21.”

 The completed RFSA include the following:

  • Cancer Care Manitoba for urology
  • Maples for general surgery and ear, nose and throat procedures
  • Pan Am for hand and foot procedures
  • Vision Group for cataracts
  • Western Surgery for cataracts, pediatric dental and plastics

— with files from Rosanna Hempel

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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