Manitoba increasing staff, adding equipment to deal with surgical and diagnostic backlogs

Orthopedic surgeries at Winnipeg’s Concordia Hospital are being boosted though the addition of another operating room, as the Manitoba government says it is working to shrink the backlog of surgical and diagnostic procedures in the province.

As part of the expansion, another orthopedic surgeon will be recruited by the province, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said at a Wednesday morning news conference, where the task force assigned to tackle Manitoba’s backlog of postponed procedures gave an update on its progress.

As well, four in-patient beds will be added and anesthesia staffing will be increased at Concordia, Gordon said.

The northeast Winnipeg hospital is the province’s leading site for joint replacement surgeries, including hip and knee replacements. But a significant number of patients have been forced to wait for their procedures as staff and other resources were focused on the pandemic response.

The improvements are expected to increase capacity by up to 1,000 surgeries per year but are not expected to be in place until the end of the year.

The province is also purchasing a new mobile unit for CT scans and two new mobile MRI units to reduce wait times for diagnostic procedures. The units will be able to deliver more than 11,600 CT scans and 7,200 MRIs annually, according to a news release from the province.

No information was given on when they would become operational.

Similarly, the province announced that services at Misericordia Health Centre’s cataract program are being expanded, but said nothing about how or when.

Spine assessments

The Spine Assessment Clinic in Winnipeg is getting $400,000 to add four physical therapists and increase the number of assessments for about 900 people living with back pain, Gordon said.

Assessments are the first step to connecting those patients with a treatment or care plan, she said. About 90 per cent of patients referred to the assessment clinic can be helped through treatments other than surgery, such as physiotherapy and chiropractic care, Gordon added.

Those extra staff members should be in place in the coming months, with a goal of reducing the wait list for spine assessments by next spring.

A pilot project with Sanford Health in North Dakota is now well underway, with nine Manitobans having received spinal surgery there to date and more scheduled in the coming weeks, the province said.

The creation of a diagnostic and surgical recovery task force was first announced in November, when the province’s backlog was estimated at 130,000 procedures. A few weeks later, Gordon announced members of the steering committee who would deal with the issue.

Since then, however, the backlog has swelled to almost 168,000 procedures, Doctors Manitoba said last week.

The advocacy organization has been keeping track of the various backlogged procedures on an online dashboard, updating it monthly.

While Doctors Manitoba has applauded the implementation of a task force, it has urged the province to be more transparent about the team’s efforts, including setting target dates to clear the backlogs and providing comprehensive, monthly reporting to monitor that progress.

Earlier this month, the task force reported that the number of surgeries and diagnostic procedures done each week at a number of Manitoba hospitals has been gradually rising as staff return to their regular assignments from caring for COVID-19 patients.

Currently, 146 staff members remain reassigned or redeployed — the lowest number since the peak of the third COVID wave in July 2021, Gordon said Wednesday.