Manitoba Stepping Up Efforts to Increase Orthopedic Surgeries to Clear Backlog

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The increase in joint replacement surgeries in Manitoba is part of the government’s latest plan to address the growing backlog of surgeries due to health care demands related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A committee tasked with tackling the backlog said Wednesday the government would support an expansion of the orthopedic surgery program at Winnipeg’s Concordia Hospital that will add another operating room and a surgeon.

Health Minister Audrey Gordon said she expects the additions to be in place by the end of the year and will enable up to 1,000 additional surgeries a year.

The number of orthopedic surgeries is well behind this year compared to previous years, said Dr Peter MacDonald, chairman of the government’s steering committee to tackle the backlog.

The additional 1,000 surgeries will be on top of the usual number the hospital would perform, he said. “We’re not just going back to the baseline.”

The province is also providing $400,000 to the Spine Assessment Clinic so more Manitobans can get diagnosis and treatment for back pain. About 900 people are currently awaiting assessment by the clinic, Gordon said.

The money will go towards four new physiotherapists, who will help provide more on-site, virtual and travel-based assessment services.

Gordon noted that the majority of patients can be helped by physical therapy, chiropractic care or other pain management solutions.

The government expects the clinic’s resources to be in place in the coming months. The goal is to reduce the waiting list for assessments by next spring.

A previously announced pilot project to send patients to Sanford Health in North Dakota is underway and nine Manitobans are undergoing spine surgery there.

The opposition NDP said the government update lacks real information and leaves more questions than answers.

“Once again, Manitobans have to wait. Thousands, unfortunately, continue to wait in pain with no end date in sight,” said health spokesperson Uzoma Asagwara.

The choice to assess progress by wait times instead of backlog figures is a deviation on the government’s part, she added.

“They’re trying to make excuses and they’re trying to distract Manitobans from the fact that they haven’t been willing to provide the information Manitobans need about this backlog of surgery and diagnosis.”

Advocacy organization Doctors Manitoba estimated last week that the backlog had reached nearly 168,000 cases, up 6,300 from the previous month.

MacDonald said the committee was working with Doctors Manitoba, but he questioned the organization’s numbers. Committee analysts are trying to verify the advocacy group’s figures, he added.

“When you look at the backlog numbers they are very disheartening, and then when you talk to the front lines you get a different story in some areas,” he said. “We’re starting to think maybe we should look more at wait times, which is more important to the patient.”

The goal, MacDonald said, is to get back to pre-pandemic wait times.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 30, 2022.

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