Canadian News Jul 28, 2021 7:12 PM EST

Ontario Health announces plan to reduce surgical wait times, refused to provide data on backlogs in June

Thousands of Ontario residents have died on surgical and procedural waitlists since early 2020.

Ontario Health announces plan to reduce surgical wait times, refused to provide data on backlogs in June
Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary, AB

Provincial health officials in Ontario have a plan to deal with surgical and procedural backlogs worsened by the COVID pandemic and successive lockdowns.

Officials said Wednesday they intend to spend $324 million to address the growing backlog, adding 67,000 additional surgeries and procedures between October and spring 2022, according to CP24. They also aimed to increase hospital capacity to between 110 and 115 percent by late fall.

The plan includes $35 million for more MRI and CT scans, $18 million for a centralized surgical waitlist management system, $1 million for surgical “smoothing” and coaching and $24 million to increase the volume of surgical and diagnostic services in independent health facilities.

In addition, Ontario Health said surgeries will also happen at night and on weekends. The province offered up to 200 nurses a $10,000 incentive for a one-year practice commitment. Another 500 would also receive "surgical extender" training programs to bolster their skills.

The province said its plan included "actual" numbers of patients moving through the system and onto waitlists. However, Ontario would not provide a figure for how many people they believed constituted the backlog. According to SecondStreet.org, 1,032 Ontario patients died while waiting for surgery in 2019-2020. Another 1,086 patients died the following year on a surgical waitlist.

5,534 Ontario residents waiting for a diagnostic scan or appointments with a specialist died. The province does not allow patients to pay for private MRI scans, and, as a result, several patients died after waiting longer than the target time for an MRI.

The vast majority of data provided concerned diagnostic scans rather than information on appointments with specialists. Overall, patient deaths occurred after waiting less than one month to almost three years for an appointment.

In one case, a patient was scheduled by Niagara Health on October 2, 2019, for an MRI scan on January 3, 2020. This created a 94-day wait even though the target time was ten days. The patient died after waiting 23 days. The details of this situation are unknown, but the data suggests it was a more urgent matter, as most of the patients had target times of 28 days.

SecondStreet.org reported that Ontario Health refused to provide additional information on the cases in question, including the type of surgery, when the patient was put on the waiting list, maximum recommended wait time, etc. It is also not clear if data from individual hospitals in Ontario overlaps with the data provided by Ontario Health.

Health officials said that residents did not seek treatment during the lockdown, as those already in the backlog constituted high-volume, non-urgent surgeries. They added this category would be addressed in the coming months, adding that some wait times decreased during the pandemic. However, they admitted that this occurred because people who would normally have sought treatment did not do so because of the government lockdowns.

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