The Manitoba government announced a new working group Wednesday to tackle a backlog of surgeries and diagnostic tests caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, even as health officials warned more surgeries may have to be postponed.
The group, which includes physicians, members of the general public and others, is tasked with looking at several options, including sending more patients out of province if that leads to faster service.
“We will be looking across our system here in the province to determine whether the surgery can be done here … and if not, then we would be engaged with the patient and their family about opportunities to have their care or their surgery provided outside of Manitoba,” Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon said.
Other options include a new centralized information system that health-care workers could use to find places within the province where wait-lists are short.
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The group will also look for ways to ensure workers such as licensed practical nurses are used to their full capabilities, the government said in a news release.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained intensive care units, which have had to draw nurses and other workers from other areas of health care. That in turn has caused postponements and cancellations of non-COVID-19 surgeries and diagnostic tests.
Recently, non-urgent cardiac surgeries were cancelled to free up staff for ICUs. Provincial statistics on Wednesday show there were 98 people in intensive care, including 34 with COVID-19. Before the pandemic, Manitoba’s normal ICU capacity was 72 beds.
The working group will issue monthly progress updates, Gordon said.
Doctors Manitoba, which represents more than 4,000 physicians, estimated earlier this week that the backlog of surgeries and tests has grown to a record 152,000 cases. It welcomed the new working group but warned action needs to follow.
“What we did not hear today is how long it will take to clear this backlog. Manitobans need to know how long their wait will be,” the doctors group said in a written statement.
Doctors Manitoba has been calling for a task force to deal with the backlog since June.
The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP), a union representing more than 6,500 allied health professionals, said the government’s plan doesn’t address what it says is a critical staffing shortage facing the province’s health-care system.
The union says the surgical and diagnostics backlog includes more than 80,000 diagnostic imaging tests such as CT scans, ultrasound, and other critical procedures.
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“Staffing is at a critical level, and the current staff don’t have any more to give,” said MAHCP President Bob Moroz, in a release .
With the current pandemic wave expected to intensify in the coming weeks, a top health official said more procedures may soon be cancelled.
“Unfortunately, we will be looking at needing to ramp down more of our surgical care in order to expand our ICU beds,” said Monika Warren, provincial COVID-19 operations chief.
The province announced 178 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths Wednesday.
It also reported four cases involving the Omicron variant, one day after announcing the first known Omicron case in Manitoba.
“I do see our case numbers rising over the next two to four weeks time, slightly,” Dr. Jazz Atwal, deputy chief public health officer, said.
— with files from Shane Gibson
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