Provinces across Canada are facing major backlogs due to the first COVID-19 lockdown. Could it get worse?
Medical associations across Canada are calling on provinces to make drastic changes to hospitals and medical clinics as a potential second lockdown looms, especially in Ontario and Quebec. Some organisations and the Fraser Institute are calling on government to enhance or add more private sector services.
While many provinces, from Nova Scotia to Alberta have shown a reduction in patient backlogs for surgeries and minor procedures, rising cases of COVID-19 are seeing doctors and nurses increasingly concerned that a second lockdown, that may last longer along with what they see as a lack of preparedness by health authorities, make backlogs even worse as they compound on the existing wait lists.
Nova Scotia reports that it is back to 97% of capacity from the first lockdown, but surgeons have expressed concern that many doctors aren’t referring some patients at his time. “But the hit is probably bigger than that,” Dr. George Hirsch, senior medical director for perioperative services at the Nova Scotia health authority said. “People also stopped getting processed through family docs and through specialist visits.”
On September 11th, the Alberta government stated it would be seeking proposals for chartered surgical facilities. These services are more minor in nature such as ophthalmology or knee and hip replacements among others. While this is conceivable in Alberta, it would likely not fly in the Atlantic provinces or the home province for universal health care in Canada, Saskatchewan where Tommy Douglas, an NDP premier brought medicare to the national stage where it was brought into legislation by Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal government in the 1960’s.
The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) released an announcement asking the provincial goveernment to add immediate resources to help clear the province’s patient backlog. These include designating and funding specific “COVID-19 hospital sites” in a region to help isolate patients, undertake better vaccination strategies and and improve readiness as well as providing mental health supports for physicians on the front line among other services.
“Clearing this backlog is enormously challenging within our current model. It is essential that we look at innovative patient-focused solutions.” said OMA President Dr. Samantha Hill. “Ontario’s doctors are calling for immediate action to ensure patients receive the highest quality of care as quickly as possible.”
According to the Fraser Institute, a think tank, Canada also has significantly longer surgical and procedural wait times than countries such as Switzerland (which spends slightly more, on an age-adjusted basis), the Netherlands, Germany and Australia (which spend slightly less). In fact, the most recent Commonwealth survey indicated that fewer Germans (0 per cent), Dutch (4 per cent), Swiss (6 per cent) and Australians (8 per cent) reported waiting longer than four months for elective surgery compared to Canada (18 per cent) in 2016, the latest year of comparable data.
All of this is, of course, compounded by the Coronavirus pandemic. An additional layer to this complex problem is long-term care facilities and residents there who may be awaiting procedures but can’t go due to more restrictions, necessarily so, in those facilities. The Trudeau government is proposing to take more actions to improve care, but those will take time and long-term care facilities are provincially legislated.
Any way you look at it, there are no easy answers for any government either provincially or nationally. Canada spends a lot on medicare, but our outcomes overall are less than other countries with universal healthcare. Either way, we can expect wait-times to increase, not decrease.
More Insights: Check out this informative article on the top concerns for senior citizens healthcare in Canada.
Author: Alex Hurst is a staff writer for HUM@Nmedia, the parent brand for Silver Magazine.