The new CIHI report released this morning sheds new light on the magnitude of the surgery backlog in Manitoba, and how the experience in Manitoba during the second wave compares to other provinces.

Doctors renew call for comprehensive plan to address backlog

A new report released today by the Canadian Institute for Health Information confirms a growing backlog of surgeries resulting from the pandemic response, helping to better understand the magnitude of serious surgery delays as well as how Manitoba’s backlog compares to other provinces.

CIHI’s reporting clearly shows the staggering backlog of surgical procedures in Manitoba,” said Dr. Kristjan Thompson, President of Doctors Manitoba. Thousands of patients have been affected, experiencing distress, complications and harm during extended waits for care.“

The CIHI report looks at the impact on hospital services from March to December 2020 compared to the same months from 2019. The report finds that:

  • Manitoba experienced a decrease of 18,398 surgical procedures in the first 10 months of the pandemic, a 22% decrease overall.
  • Many surgical procedures were affected, including an 11% decrease in cardiac surgeries and an 8% decrease in cancer surgeries.

The impact on surgeries was different during the first and second waves of the pandemic. During the first wave in the spring of 2020, all provinces paused many surgical procedures, largely as a precautionary measure to free up hospital capacity for a potential surge in COVID-19 admissions. 

During the second wave, however, Manitoba was the only province that experienced a significant decrease in surgical volumes. For the period of October to December 2020, there was a 29% decrease in surgical volumes in Manitoba, compared to just a 4% decrease on average across Canada.

By the second wave of the pandemic, most provinces had found ways to minimize the disruption to surgical services when faced with surges in COVID-19 admissions, but in Manitoba thousands of surgeries were canceled or postponed,” added Dr. Thompson.

While the CIHI analysis only includes the first 10 months of the pandemic, it validates a recent Doctors Manitoba report that also included an additional five months. The backlog of surgical procedures is estimated to have reached 39,000 cases by May 2021, as surgeries were again postponed during the third wave of the pandemic. The Doctors Manitoba report also estimated a backlog of over 44,000 diagnostic imaging tests and 32,000 other procedures, such as endoscopies, allergy tests and mammograms.

Doctors Manitoba made three broad recommendations last month to help guide a surgery and diagnostic recovery, including:

  1. A clear provincial commitment to fully address the pandemic backlog by a fixed date.
  2. The creation of a surgery and diagnostic recovery task force, including both health system leaders and front line physicians and health care workers, to lead the immediate and sustained task of addressing the backlog.
  3. Monthly public reporting on the size of the backlog and on actions to improve the situation. 

Doctors are renewing our call for immediate action to address the backlog of over 110,000 surgeries and diagnostic tests as quickly as possible,” Dr.

Thompson said. Initial meetings with provincial officials have been productive, but a concrete commitment and comprehensive plan is needed now to reassure physicians and their patients that a post-pandemic Manitoba will mean that their wait for testing or surgery will be over.“

A copy of the June Doctors Manitoba report is available here, and the updated CIHI report can be accessed here.

Surgical Volume Changes, First and Second Pandemic Wave (comparing 2020 to 2019)

Province 1st Wave — Mar-May 2nd Wave — Oct-Dec
Newfoundland & Labrador -64% 0%
Prince Edward Island -44% 7%
Nova Scotia -59% -1%
New Brunswick -52% -7%
Ontario -60% -4%
Manitoba -45% -29%
Saskatchewan -54% -7%
Alberta -47% -2%
British Columbia -49% -1%
Overall Total -55% -4%

The table above compares surgery volumes for the periods of March to May (first wave) and October to December (second wave) for 2020 and 2019. Source: CIHI data tables.