Diagnostic Testing & Surgical Backlog Grows to Over 169,000 Cases

Doctors Manitoba updated its diagnostic and surgical backlog dashboard today with new estimates suggesting the pandemic backlog has reached over 169,000 cases. This is an increase of over 1,300 from last month’s estimate.

While it’s disappointing to see the estimated backlog grow again, the rate of growth has started to slow down,” said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, President of Doctors Manitoba. This reflects what we are seeing on the front line, with more and more staff returning to operating rooms and other areas, helping the system get closer to its pre-pandemic baseline volumes. That said, physicians are looking for a concrete plan from the province on addressing the shortage of nurses, technologists and other professionals needed to catch up and keep up with testing and surgeries. This is the biggest barrier to clearing the backlog.” 

The total estimated pandemic backlog is now 169,198 cases, an increase of 1,311 from last month. This includes:

  • 55,571 surgeries (as of February 2022), up 751 cases over the last month’s estimate.
  • 46,189 diagnostic imaging procedures (as of February 2022), up 938 cases over last month’s estimate.
  • 67,438 other diagnostic testing procedures (as of March 2022), including allergy tests, endoscopies, mammograms, sleep disorder studies, and lung function tests, an improvement of 378 cases over last month’s estimate. 

The Surgical and Diagnostic Backlog Dashboard can be accessed at Doc​tors​Man​i​to​ba​.ca/​b​a​cklog.

Doctors Manitoba estimates the backlog improved in some areas, albeit small improvements, including for allergy tests, mammograms and cataract surgery.

Work Delayed on Updating Estimates

Last month, Doctors Manitoba announced it would be undertaking a more comprehensive analysis with the aim of offering a more accurate estimate of the work required to clear the backlog. This was, in part, in response to a request from provincial officials. 

While there have been several positive and constructive meetings with the Task Force itself, provincial health officials have not yet shared any additional data to help with refining the backlog estimates. To help advance work in this area, and get clearer information for the thousands of Manitobans waiting for tests and surgeries, Doctors Manitoba has now filed a freedom-of-information request to formally seek this necessary data.

For nearly a year, Doctors Manitoba has estimated the backlog that has accumulated during the pandemic by calculating the reduced volume of procedures delivered since the pandemic began in March 2020, compared to the normal, pre-pandemic baseline volumes. While this methodology is consistent with other organizations, including the Canadian Institute for Health Information, it is less reliable after two years as some of the tests and surgeries missed during the pandemic may no longer be required. There could be several reasons that procedures not completed earlier in the pandemic may no longer be required:

  • Some tests are used for regular monitoring, so a test missed in the first year of the pandemic may have been caught during the second year. 
  • Some patients no longer need a test or procedure, perhaps because their condition either improved or deteriorated, because they moved away, or because they died while waiting. 
  • Alternative and sometimes less ideal tests or treatments were used instead.

It’s important to know how massive the backlog truly is in order to plan how much work has to be done to clear it,” noted Dr. Thompson. Physicians, their patients and all Manitobans are looking for more certainty and transparency about the backlog and wait times for testing and surgery.”

While the updated approach to estimating the backlog is taking longer to develop than anticipated, Doctors Manitoba still plans to consult with specialty physicians who provide care the care for the procedures included in the backlog.

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