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Surgery backlogs near breaking point

Surgery backlogs near breaking point

As COVID cases keep increasing in Ontario, ongoing surgical and diagnostic backlogs will only worsen without governmental help to address a strained health-care system.  Wait times have increased by almost three months for the most common procedures.

     The CMA said recently it would take $1.3 billion in additional funds to tackle delays sidelined from January to June because they were deemed non-essential when the pandemic started.

     A study ordered by the organization looked at the six most commonly delayed procedures: CT and MRI scans, hip and knee replacements, cataract surgeries and coronary artery bypass grafts, which all plummeted in April, when almost no cataract or knee replacements took place.

     Although procedures gradually began to rebound in June, the report found more than 270,000 people had their MRI scans—which can detect serious disease or injury—delayed by a national average of nearly eight months, more than seven weeks longer than before the pandemic. Those waiting for knee replacements surgeries had to wait an average of 14 months, about 2 months longer than before the pandemic.

     Now that we are into the winter months, it is getting worse and there is no plan by our premier, Doug Ford to restore backlogs to pre-pandemic levels in the near future. Every day he talks to us as if he is doing something, but nothing is getting done at all.

     Almost half the delayed procedures were CT scans, while about a third were MRI scans, which are often used to diagnose potential cancers, follow-up on cancer treatment and screen for breast cancer as well as diagnose joint pain.

     The rise in CT scan backlogs varied widely across the country, from a 14 per cent increase in Alberta to a 75 per cent increase in Ontario.

     Ontario also saw the biggest delays in MRI scans and still had the most ground to cover in June when many parts of the country began resuming health services.

     Nationally, the backlog included 249,088 scans with a 3.5 month long wait, which was 33 days longer than before the pandemic.

     These delays cause unfortunate unintended consequences. How many cancers were missed during this period? How many diseases were missed that could have been treated? How many people died from heart attacks and strokes because tests and surgeries were not available to them?

     Do you think hip surgeries are non-essential? To the patient who’s having great difficulty walking, who can no longer go up the steps in their home, that is a critical procedure. Also while you compensate and put your weight on the good hip, it now also begins to deteriorate. Delayed care limits your ability to work, increases your reliance on caregivers and pain killers and strains families emotionally and financially.

     All non-essential surgeries were halted early in the pandemic to limit the spread of COVID-19 and ensure hospitals had the capacity to respond to a possible surge in infections.

     But any one of the delayed procedures could become urgent over time, especially now as the second wave further delays care for people who may have been waiting since before the pandemic.

     And that is leading to more strain on hospitals by requiring bigger surgeries and longer recovery times, not to mention additional pressures on other health-care workers including home care staff and physiotherapists.

       Obviously if your disease process is getting worse you will require more resources for your treatment and your outcome is more likely to be worse.

     The study found the six procedures plummeted to their lowest point in April and began a rebound in May and June as services gradually returned, however, a sizable backlog remained. It is only getting worse as this winter wave engulfs our hospitals.

     The study estimates that an additional 307,498 procedures would need to be performed over a 12 month period to clear the backlog. With the pandemic at its worst right now, this goal is virtually impossible.

     Of the six backlogged procedures studied in June, the increased wait was the greatest for cataract patients who waited an additional 75 days for surgery, for a total average of 331 days. And that does not include patients who simply cancelled their doctor’s appointments or tests.

     The CMA suggested investment of 1.3 billion does even include the increased costs in personal protective equipment, additional cleaning measures and any new policy guidelines that would further reduce capacity.

     The system is cracking and only getting worse and the premier stands out there in front of the TV cameras every day telling us how he is acting upon the best medical advice while doing absolutely nothing about the dilemma. I think he is lying. Do you?

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