Randall Denley: Ontario finally has a plan for surgical backlogs. It needs a better one

Randall Denley: Ontario finally has a plan for surgical backlogs. It needs a better one

2020-08-14 7:23:00 AM

Randall Denley: Ontario finally has a plan for surgical backlogs. It needs a better one

The Ontario government simply hasn’t focused on the “elective” surgery problem, which includes vital heart, hip, knee and eye procedures

AdvertisementThis advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.Article content continuedThe government did release a “framework” for the surgical restart back in May. It had two main components, neither of which benefited those in the queue. It required hospitals to keep available 10 per cent of their acute bed capacity in case of a second wave of the virus and to maintain a 30-day supply of medical supplies.

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More On This TopicRandall Denley: Ontario's back to school plan has some notable weaknessesIt has been left to hospitals to find a way to pick up the surgical pace, but it’s a hopeless task without substantial new provincial money. The province’s Financial Accountability Office estimated that as of April 22, 52,700 surgeries had been cancelled or avoided. Each week of additional elective surgery shutdown would add just over 12,000 to that total.

Two weeks later, Health Minister Christine Elliott announced that surgeries could resume. By that time, the backlog was probably about 75,000.How big is the backlog now? And have hospitals made any progress in reducing it? That seems like questions for which someone should have a ready answer. Ontario Health, which is supposed to manage such things says “it is difficult to determine” how many patients are waiting for surgeries, in total, or the number delayed by the pandemic.

The minimum number of 75,000 is probably conservative, given that the province is still compelling hospitals to run at reduced capacity to save space for potential COVID patients. The total number of hospital beds has been expanded, so that might offset the capacity reduction. But really, who knows? Ontario’s vague, slow-moving approach to this significant health-care problem contrasts rather unfavourably with the actions of the B.C. government. On the same day that Elliott was announcing her framework, B.C. released a plan for action.

AdvertisementThis advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below.Article content continuedB.C..’s plan involved exactly the steps a rational person might expect. The government hired more surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists to cut the backlog. It expanded operating room hours and relied on private clinics for the procedures they are capable of handling.

B.C.’s plan has a price tag, a goal, details on how it would be reached and reporting on progress. Using those criteria as a standard, Ontario is zero for four. Back in July, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he wanted the surgical backlog “cleaned up as quickly as possible.” Unfortunately, merely saying that does nothing.

Even before the pandemic, wait times for surgery in Ontario were unacceptably long. Is it reasonable for Ontarians to wait 208 days for eye surgery, 213 days for orthopaedic surgery, 167 days for pediatric surgery or 158 days for neurosurgery? Those were the numbers last June. All are substantially higher now.

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One of the durable myths about surgical wait times is that the government of the day is doing all it can, but there just aren’t enough doctors and operating rooms to provide timely service. The province’s forthcoming effort to resolve the pandemic backlog will show that surgical wait times can be cut with a combination of money, organization and creative thinking about what must be done in hospitals and what can be done elsewhere.

Once Ontario powers up the surgery system, it shouldn’t be content with returning to the dismal numbers it had pre-pandemic. Delivering real improvements in wait times would be a vote-getting policy for the PC government and an overdue reward for patients who are literally long-suffering. After sitting on its hands for the last four months, the government owes the public substantial and sustained action ASAP. Every week of additional delay just makes the backlog worse.

Randall Denley is an Ottawa political commentator and author of the new mystery Payback, available at randalldenley.com Contact him at randalldenley1@gmail.com. Read more: National Post »

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I’ve been waiting 2 years for surgery on my hand!! A family member in MB needed something similar. It was done they next day. I’m going broke replacing things I’ve dropped. Phones, key fobs are expensive. I can’t type on a keyboard. fordnation has zero social society conscience.

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