Pace of out-of-province surgeries expected to rise while Manitoba strives to reduce backlog

Manitoba has sent 59 patients awaiting spinal surgery to Fargo, N.D., in the first nine months of their arrangement — a number that’s expected to grow more quickly in time, the province said.

The provincial government covered the cost of those procedures south of the border in a bid to reduce a surgical and diagnostic backlog that escalated while pandemic lockdowns shuttered surgical units.

In order to whittle down the backlog faster, the Manitoba government entered into deals with an out-of-province surgical provider in North Dakota and then, this summer, with clinics in northwestern Ontario and Ohio. The province expects as many as 750 Manitobans to receive care as a result of these agreements.

So far, 59 procedures have been completed in Fargo and 28 hip and knee surgeries were conducted by Big Thunder Orthopedic Associates in northwestern Ontario, the government said in an email Thursday.

More Manitobans becoming aware

A government spokesperson said the number of patients travelling out of province will speed up as the process becomes streamlined and more patients become aware of the option. Manitobans can express their interest online.

During question period on Thursday, NDP Leader Wab Kinew called on the premier to reveal how much these procedures are costing Manitoba taxpayers, a dollar figure which the government has kept under wraps.

Premier Heather Stefanson didn’t offer a cost estimate either. She said “the important thing here is that those individuals are getting the surgical procedures they need.”

The government said the price tag for out-of-province surgeries could only be reported after the fact, as the cost for each patient varies depending on the care received. The province would not provide a rough cost estimate either. 

Manitoba committed $110 million in this year’s budget to the work of its diagnostic and surgical recovery task force. In addition to paying for out-of-province procedures, the province is working to boost capacity locally to deliver already delayed procedures faster.

Stefanson said in question period Thursday that for some procedures, such as cardiac and cataract surgeries, Manitoba has completed more operations in 2022 so far than the entirety of 2020 and 2021.

The task force recently unveiled an online dashboard to track its progress in reducing wait times and wait-list volumes.