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Province seeking proposals to help reduce elective surgery backlog

About 200 elective procedures have been completed in Thompson since non-emergency surgeries resumed May 26
thompson general hospital operating room feb 28 2020
About 200 elective surgeries have been performed at Thompson General Hospital since it resumed performing non-emergency surgeries May 26 after all elective procedures were suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The three new operating rooms renovated after water damage rendered them unusable in early June 2019 only began being used for surgeries March 9, three days before the first positive COVID-19 case in Manitoba.

The provincial government announced July 2 that is seeking proposals to help reduce the backlog of elective surgeries that resulted when such procedures were cancelled earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen said proposals can be submitted by private and public facilities and must be able to begin delivering services by Aug. 1. Priority areas include pediatric dental surgeries, pediatric ear, nose and throat surgeries, minor orthopedic procedures, ophthalmology surgery, outpatient spine procedures and outpatient urology surgeries. Dealing with the backlog must not adversely affect existing service delivery capacity in the public healthcare system.

The Manitoba government already works with a number of providers outside the public system to provide services, including cataract surgeries, and other surgical and diagnostic procedures,” said Friesen in a press release. “This government believes Manitobans deserve better health care, sooner. This initiative demonstrates that we are committed to exploring all available options to get surgeries and procedures rescheduled so that Manitobans have access to the care they need now, while the risk of COVID-19 is lower.”

About 7,000 surgeries were cancelled throughout the province from late March to late May. The province says surgical volumes reached about 90 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity by early June, at which time there were still 5,500 people waiting to have their surgeries rescheduled.

In Northern Manitoba, elective surgeries resumed in late may. In The Pas, services resumed May 25 and 41 elective surgeries have been performed there since. Elective surgeries at Thompson General Hospital resumed the next day and 202 procedures have been completed there since. Elective surgeries only became possible in Thompson around the time that the first COVID-19 case was detected in the province in mid-March because three of the hospital’s four operating rooms had been out of service and undergoing renovations since early June 2019 as a result of water damage. 

No elective surgeries have been performed in Flin Flon because a decision was made in April to suspend surgical services at the hospital there.

The Pas and Thompson are not yet at full capacity when it comes to elective surgeries.

“The safety of our patients is our first priority and we need to evaluate the impact the increase in surgeries has on our available resources,” said a Northern Regional Health Authority spokesperson.

Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said cuts to the public health care system in the province over the last four years reduced the ability of the system to cope with a backlog like that caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Attempting to increase capacity by expanding private health care delivery risks eroding our existing public capacity by pulling health care professionals out of the public system,” said Jackson in a press release. “The way to appropriately deal with the surgeries backlog is by investing and building capacity in the public health care system, not expanding privatized health care. The Pallister government can and should focus on restoring and enhancing public surgical capacity, to ensure patients get the safe, timely, consistent, high quality care they deserve."