Ontario has a backlog of nearly 16 million health-care procedures due to the pandemic, more than one for every person in the province, according to a new analysis from the province’s physicians’ group.
There are nearly half a million backlogged MRIs and more than a quarter-million backlogged CT scans, with backlogs greater 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 from 2020 and the same period in 2021.
The procedures with the greatest backlogs are MRIs, CT scans, cataract surgery, knee and hip replacements and coronary-artery bypass grafts. There are 9.6 million delayed services in community settings and 6.5 million in hospitals, which include the waitlist of procedures that existed 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 in the process of developing recommendations on how to tackle the backlog and that the association will work closely with government to do so.
The OMA estimates build 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 of procedures “isn’t great news for people who have been waiting for a long time,” the government has a plan to address the problem, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in response to the FAO report last month.
Through its last budget, Elliott said the province has committed $500 million to engage in surgeries during evenings and on weekends. The Ontario government 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 also be transferred from one hospital to another that has space, Elliott said.
When asked if Ontario’s government needs to be spending more to help reduce backlogs, Kassam said more resources are “going to be part of a solution for the future.”
“No matter how you slice it, there’s going to 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 transformation of the healthcare system or reorganizing our health-care system, (more resources are) going to be part of the solution,” he added.
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