Pandemic health-care backlogs cleared in 17 of 30 focus areas, task force leaders say

Leaders from a Manitoba task force aiming to reduce the pandemic backlog of medical procedures said they’ve made some progress in clearing the logjam, and that both public and private clinicians are needed to address it.

Dr. Peter MacDonald, chair of the diagnostic and surgical recovery task force, said Wednesday that backlogs have been eliminated in 17 of its roughly 30 focus areas, up seven since the last update, in April, and progress has been made in other areas.

Even with those eliminated backlogs, there’s been a 42 per cent overall reduction in Manitoba’s surgery and diagnostic test backlog, up by about eight per cent since the previous update.

“We feel we are making progress and we feel it’s important to update Manitobans that the money they are spending on the task force and on Shared Health are able to bring down some of these backlogs and the COVID-19 related issues,” he said at a news conference.

Timelines for finishing addressing the backlog are still not available.

Three men in suits pose for the camera in the background. In the foreground is a sign that says, "Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force: Manitoba."
David Matear, left, Dr. Peter MacDonald, centre, and Dr. Ed Buchel, right, members of Manitoba’s diagnostic and surgical backlog task force, gave an update on their work. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Since the creation of the surgical task force in late 2021, more than 72,300 procedures have been completed, including 43,600 in the public system and more than 28,200 procedures in the province by contracted health-service providers (approximately 26,200 of which are in the public health-care system and 2,000 from private providers). 

Surgical lead Dr. Ed Buchel acknowledged much of the public attention around the task force has focused on the work at private clinics within Manitoba, even though the outcome is the same regardless of the location, he said.

“I do the exact same procedure to the exact same people on the exact same waitlist, whether I park my car at the Victoria Hospital … or at Western or Maples surgical centres,” he said.

“It is publicly funded with public oversight and it is privately delivered. We just need to be really clear because the emotions run crazy high when we talk about privatizing our system.”

Buchel said all the rhetoric around private contracts is “harmful.” 

MacDonald said patients don’t need to pay out of pocket costs for procedures at private clinics.

“We’re not preferentially looking at public or private or private or public. We need both to address the backlog,” he said.

In addition to the diagnostic and surgical procedures completed in Manitoba, 478 were done outside the province, which is less than 0.01 per cent of the total, the task force said.

“Most Manitobans prefer, and we don’t blame them, to have their procedures done locally, and we’re trying to accommodate them wherever possible. Some Manitobans choose to go out of province if they do not want to wait for the local provider,” MacDonald said.

Manitoba NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara accused the Progressive Conservative caucus of failing to listen to health-care experts locally who had solutions.

A person with black hair in a blue suit looks off camera, while a person with short blonde hair stands in the background.
Uzoma Asagwara, the NDP MLA for Union Station and health critic, said the provincial government should be paying more respect and attention to local health leaders. (CBC)

“If this government had been listening to experts from the get go, if this government had respected the health-care experts here in Manitoba, there’s a good chance those Manitobans would have had the procedures they need here at home,” Asagwara said in an interivew after Question Period at the legislature on Wednesday.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said he believes the task force isn’t independent of government, and is just echoing PC talking points.

“There just seems to be a complete lack of independence because the task force is part of the government, part of the health-care system. So that’s why we asked today, can we actually get an explanation of what they’re doing? Can we ask questions of them,” he said in an interview on Wednesday.

Gender-affirming care

The task force also announced two contracts have been awarded to address gender-affirming care wait times.

“That’s to address a backlog which has caused an increase in wait times which are specific for the adult population,” said David Matear, provincial executive director of the task force.

Currently the wait time for gender-affirming care at Klinic is more than a year, while the target is three months.

The contracts will help meet that target, Matear said.

The announcement came after the Manitoba NDP raised concerns about the Progressive Conservative government deleting a $1.2-million funding pledge from its website.

Last week, the government held a news conference at The Forks, where it announced new supports for the LGBTQ community, including the creation of a gender-equity office and the decision to give Pride Winnipeg annual funding.

There was no mention at the event of the funding for gender-affirming care announced in a background document that was sent to media and published on the government’s website later that morning.

Later that day, the government deleted any reference to the commitment to gender-affirming care from its website.

The document that was deleted said nearly $490,000 would be given over two years to reduce wait lists for gender-affirming care, including surgeries, and more than $700,000 would go to the Gender Diversity and Affirming Action for Youth program, which helps to deliver that care and offer support.