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Doctors Manitoba files freedom of information request to get province’s backlog data

Doctors Manitoba has filed a freedom of information request to get data about surgical and diagnostic backlogs from the province.

Provincial health officials have not yet shared any additional data to help with refining the backlog estimates, Doctors Manitoba says.

The advocacy group, which represents more than 3,000 physicians in the province, made the announcement Friday in a news release that suggests the pandemic backlog for certain procedures is still growing.

“While it’s disappointing to see the estimated backlog grow again, the rate of growth has started to slow down,” Dr. Kristjan Thompson, an emergency room physician at St. Boniface Hospital and president of Doctors Manitoba, stated in the release.

The latest estimates from Doctors Manitoba put the backlog at 169,198 cases — an increase of 1,311 from March.

The backlog increased by 6,300 cases between February and March, and by 7,748 between January and February, according to the organization’s estimates.

Late last year, the province created a task force to address the backlog, following months of lobbying by Doctors Manitoba. At the time, the estimate was 130,000 procedures.

There has been disagreement, though, over how the task force and Doctors Manitoba tabulate the data regarding backlogs.

Dr. Peter MacDonald, chair of the task force’s steering committee, said at the end of March that he doesn’t entirely agree with the advocacy organization’s numbers and that the two groups would work together to verify the most accurate statistics.

He also said wait times may be a more important metric for patients than the number of backlogged procedures.

Thompson said in Friday’s news release that while there have been “several positive and constructive meetings,” provincial health officials have yet to share data that would help clarify the estimates.

Doctors Manitoba filed its freedom of information request for the data “to help advance work in this area, and get clearer information for the thousands of Manitobans waiting for tests and surgeries,” Thompson said in the release.

He was unavailable for interviews on Friday due to his work schedule.

A spokesperson for the province said officials are bringing in technology to track the reduction of the backlog in the form of a central intake system.

“Addressing the pandemic backlog is an immensely complex task as is quantifying the backlog,” the spokesperson said.

Nearly back to pre-pandemic levels: task force lead

For nearly a year now, Doctors Manitoba has estimated the backlog by calculating the number of procedures delivered since the pandemic began in March 2020, compared to normal, pre-pandemic baseline volumes.

It said it does so by consulting with specialty physicians who provide the care for the procedures. That methodology is consistent with other organizations, including the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Doctors Manitoba says.

However, after two years of the pandemic, it may be less reliable as some of the tests and surgeries missed may no longer be required, Doctors Manitoba’s news release notes:

  • Some tests are used for regular monitoring, so a test missed in the first year of the pandemic may have been done during the second year. 
  • Some patients may no longer need a test or procedure 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,” Thompson said in the release.

On Thursday, task force head Dr. David Matear said the number of surgeries and diagnostic tests now being completed is nearly as high as before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re trying to do everything to reduce the growth of the backlog, and we’re pretty near that 100 per cent,” he said.

However, 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, Thompson stated in the release.

“This is the biggest barrier to clearing the backlog.”

Doctors Manitoba says the backlog breakdown now consists of:

  • 55,571 surgeries, up 751 cases over the last month.
  • 46,189 diagnostic imaging procedures like MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, up 938 cases.
  • 67,438 other diagnostic testing procedures, including allergy tests, endoscopies, mammograms, sleep disorder studies, and lung function tests — an improvement of 378 cases over last month. 

Doctors Manitoba estimates that while the changes are small, the backlog has improved in some areas such as allergy tests, mammograms and cataract surgeries.

“Physicians, their patients and all Manitobans are looking for more certainty and transparency about the backlog and wait times for testing and surgery,” Thompson said.

The organization will keep pressing the province to set detailed target dates to clear the backlog and provide comprehensive, monthly reporting to monitor that progress, Friday’s news release said.

In the meantime, the group intends to continue tracking the various backlogged procedures on its own dashboard.

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