Surgical backlog may have peaked, but waits persist for lung tests: Doctors Manitoba

The pandemic backlog of diagnostic tests and surgeries may have peaked in Manitoba, though Doctors Manitoba said it is concerned about the growing number of backlog cases waiting for lung tests.

In its monthly report, Doctors Manitoba said the estimated pandemic backlog is now sitting at 166,903 cases – a drop of more than 2,200 cases since last month’s estimate. Doctors Manitoba said this is the first time the backlog has decreased in more than a year.

Doctors Manitoba said the decreases in backlog cases were largely due to more volumes in ultrasound, mammography and endoscopy. However, the backlog for lung function tests continued to increase – a concerning trend for Doctors Manitoba.

“Unfortunately, we’re looking at a six-month period for determining how behind we are in testing as compared to how we were doing testing prior to the pandemic,” said Dr. Nancy Porhownik, a respirologist.

She said because a number of lung function tests are aerosol-generating, there was an increased risk of COVID-19 and so access to the tests was reduced amid the pandemic.

She said in many cases, the people being affected by the backlog include cancer patients who are waiting for surgeries or chemotherapy and need to have pulmonary function studies before those treatments.

“In a lot of cases these are very seriously ill patients,” Porhownik said. “They can’t wait for a long time, and tests have to be able to be done in a timely manner to allow them access to the testing or the treatments that they need.”

Doctors Manitoba has been calling for short-term actions to address the backlog, including removing restrictions on complex lung function and respiratory tests so they can be offered at more clinics.

In a statement, the province said work continues to help reduce the surgical backlog in Manitoba.

“The Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force (DSRTF) is planning and working on initiatives that will hopefully lead to spending every penny of the $110 million with a goal to approach our government for more,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement. “Our government is confident in the work of the DSRTF and knows that outcomes are already being achieved.”

The province said surgical procedures across Manitoba are consistently at or above 2019 baseline levels, marking a return to pre-pandemic levels.

“The DSRTF meets regularly to work collaboratively with Doctors Manitoba, and is happy to consider any ideas, expressions of interest, or proposals to reduce the diagnostic and surgical backlog,” the spokesperson said.

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