Ontario has a backlog of nearly 16 million health-care procedures because of the pandemic, more than one for every person in the province, according to a new analysis by the province’s physicians’ group.
There are nearly half a million backlogged MRIs and more than a quarter-million backlogged CT scans, with more backlogs in community settings, such as family doctors’ offices, than in hospitals, the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) says.
To estimate the backlog, the OMA compared Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) billing data for six procedures in 2020 to the same period in 2021.
The procedures with the most backlogs are MRIs, CT scans, cataract surgery, knee and hip replacements, and coronary-artery bypass grafts. A total of 9.6 million services have been delayed in community settings and 6.5 million have been delayed in hospitals, including procedures that were on the waitlist before the pandemic.
“Three serious waves of infections have created a lengthy backlog of surgeries, diagnostic exams, and other health-care procedures,” Dr. Adam Kassam, the newly minted president of the OMA, said at a briefing on Wednesday.
“We have also heard from community-based family doctors and specialists, who are reporting conditions that were left undiagnosed during the pandemic, as patients avoided seeking help,” Kassam said. “Some conditions have grown more serious, as non-COVID patients waited longer for treatment.”
If the health system were operating at 120 per cent capacity, it would take 22 months to clear the backlog of knee replacements, 21 months for cataract surgeries, 14 months for hip replacements, 10 months for cardiac surgery, 10 months for MRIs, and four months for CT scans.
Kassam said the OMA is developing recommendations for how to tackle the backlog and will work closely with government to do so.
The OMA estimates are based on a recent Financial Accountability Office of Ontario report that found clearing the backlog of surgeries delayed by COVID-19 will take more than three years and cost the province $1.3 billion — roughly $700 million more than it budgeted.
While the backlog “isn’t great news for people who have been waiting for a long time,” the government has a plan to catch up, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in response to the FAO report last month.
In its last budget, Elliott said the province committed $500 million for evening and weekend surgeries. It also set up a surgical waitlist “across a number of hospitals on a regional basis” to make sure every operating room is being used.
If necessary, patients needing surgery will be transferred from one hospital to another that has space, Elliott said.
When asked if Ontario’s government needs to spend more to shorten backlogs, Kassam said more resources will “be part of a solution for the future.”
“No matter how you slice it, there (will) have to be investment in the health system in order to work through, not only this backlog, but everything else that comes along with it,” Kassam told iPolitics. “Whether that includes the (transforming or) reorganizing our health-care system, (more resources will be) part of the solution.”
This story was copy-edited after publication.
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