Healthcare Backlog Continues to Grow

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Emergency Room Entrance TBRHSC
Emergency Room Entrance TBRHSC

Thunder Bay Above Provincial Averages in Wait Times – OMA

Thunder Bay – COVID-19 Update – One of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a growing backlog of patients in the healthcare system needing surgery and diagnostic tests.

At the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre the facility is often at over-capacity. This week there were reports of patients being held in ambulances in the Emergency Ward awaiting room inside so they could be treated.

As of Friday the TBRHSC and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit declared a COVID-19 Outbreak in Ward 2 of the facility and reported that the hospital capacity was at 100.4 per cent.

In Ontario, the number of backlogged surgeries is growing.

The Ontario Medical Association has estimated 21,000,000 patient services have been delayed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Omicron Sixth Wave of the pandemic continues, it is possible increased numbers of patient services could be delayed.

In Thunder Bay the wait times for healthcare are slightly above provincial averages.

Province-wide, about 29 per cent of Ontarians receiving knee surgery waited longer than provincial targets, according to the latest public data from Ontario Health, and 63 per cent of Ontarians waited longer than recommended for MRIs.

In Thunder Bay however, 32 per cent of people waited longer for knee surgery and 65 per cent waited longer for an MRI.

Provincial guidelines recommend knee surgeries be performed within 42 to 182 days from the time of decision to surgery, depending on how urgent the procedure is considered. It’s recommended MRIs be provided within two to 28 days, depending on the urgency.

Seniors in Thunder Bay are also waiting much longer than the provincial average to get into a long-term care facility in the region’s Local Health Integration Network. They waited 189 days, compared to the provincial average of 149 days, according to the most recent public data from Health Quality Ontario.

“People across Ontario are waiting longer for surgeries and MRIs than the province’s own recommendations, and the wait times are even longer for patients here in Thunder Bay,” said Doctor Stephen Viherjoki, the chair of the local Ontario Medical Association district. “Physicians and other health-care workers are doing everything they can to get patients the care they need, but they need help from the province.”

Manitoba Doctors Say 110,000 Backlog Procedures

In Manitoba, physicians are calling for clear and decisive action to address the growing backlog in surgeries and diagnostic tests. In a detailed report released on Fridayday, Doctors Manitoba estimates the ​pandemic backlog” has reached over 110,000procedures. That number of backlogged cases continues to grow.

The pandemic backlog of medical tests and surgeries is staggering, and it’s getting bigger every day,” said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, President of Doctors Manitoba. ​As we move past this third wave, patients need to see immediate and sustained action to address this critical issue.”

The growing backlog, which is leading to lengthy delays in diagnosis and treatment, is estimated to include:

  • Over 39,000 surgeries, including in serious life-saving surgeries
  • Over 44,000 diagnostic imaging procedures, such as MRI, CT and ultrasound scans
  • Over 32,000 other procedures, including endoscopies, mammograms and allergy tests.

To address the backlog, Doctors Manitoba recommends three broad actions:

  1. A clear provincial commitment to fully address the pandemic backlog by a fixed date.
  2. The creation of a surgery and diagnostic recovery task force, including both health system leaders and front line physicians and health care workers, to lead the immediate and sustained task of addressing the backlog.
  3. Monthly public reporting on the size of the backlog and on actions to improve the situation.

We recognize the provincial government invested in reducing wait times, but unfortunately all of that progress has been erased by this pandemic,” added Dr. Thompson. ​We now face a backlog and wait lists that are longer than most physicians have ever seen, and this crisis requires an immediate and ongoing coordinated response from provincial leaders.”

Physicians cited a shortage of nurses and technologists as top barriers to addressing the backlog, a problem that started long before the pandemic. This left Manitoba’s hospitals especially vulnerable during the pandemic, perhaps more so than any other province, because there was little capacity to absorb even a moderate increase in COVID-19 admissions without significant disruptions to other hospital services.

The diagnostic and surgery backlog is one of the top concerns for physicians in Manitoba, who are worried about their patients. Delays and repeated cancellations are leading to:

  • Patients waiting in pain and discomfort;
  • Minor health issues becoming more complicated, requiring more complex surgeries and longer hospital stays; and
  • Patient harm, including delayed diagnosis, permanent disability and death.

The full report, Addressing the Surgery and Diagnostic Backlog: A Path to Recovery, is available here.