Postponed surgeries and procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic have created a backlog of 16 million health-care services — more than one for every Ontario resident — the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) estimates.
A comparison of OHIP billings between 2020 and 2021 found significant gaps in MRIs (477,301), CT scans (269,683), cataract surgery (90,136), knee (38,263) and hip (16,506) replacements, according to new data revealed in an OMA media briefing today.
The OMA estimates that clearing the backlog, working at 120 per cent, would take: 22 months for knee replacements, 21 months for cataract surgeries, 14 months for hip replacements and 10 months for MRIs.
The backlog is larger in community settings (9.6 million) over hospitals (6.5 million), according to the data, suggesting Ontarians have been deferring visits with their family doctors for screening and treatment of chronic conditions.
At Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, vice-president of clinical transformation Liz Ferguson said that addressing the backlog will be dependant on operating room staffing capacity coming out of the third wave of the pandemic.
“In the weeks and months to come, Southlake will work hard to do as many surgeries and procedures as possible, in order to start tackling the significant backlog that has been caused by COVID-19,” Ferguson said.
A May provincial Financial Accountability Office Report estimated it would take $1.3 billion to clear the backlog of surgeries and diagnostic procedures.
Thornhill dermatologist Dr. Sandra Landolt said in the briefing that screening reduced during the pandemic, she is seeing more advanced skin cancers among her patients. The Canadian Dermatologist Association estimates 1,999 melanomas have gone undetected throughout the pandemic.
Landolt later added she is concerned about the long-term mental health impact on people stuck waiting for treatments.
“We can’t even imagine how bad this is going to be,” Landolt said. “I’m very, very concerned.”
Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre head of cardiology Dr. Harindra Wijeysundera said health care will need to transform to overcome the situation. He also said with the pandemic reinforcing inequities and hitting vulnerable communities the hardest, the recovery would need to account for that.
“If we’re not deliberate in our recovery phase," he said. "Then it will be a tragic theme in this pandemic that what we recover to will continue to exacerbate these inequities."
Mississauga family physician Sohal Goyal said it is important people begin contacting their doctors.
“Don’t wait. We’re ready,” Goyal said. “We have been open. We have been working hard. We’re working overcapacity to try and serve all those patients as fast as we can.”
OMA president Dr. Adam Kassam said additional resources will also have to be part of the solution.
"No matter how you slice it, there’s going to have to be an investment in the health systems in order to not only work through this backlog, but everything else that comes with it," Kassam said.
Ferguson said for now, Southlake is performing the most urgent surgeries and following Ministry of Health directives on resuming scheduled procedures.
"We understand that it is difficult for those patients who are waiting for surgery. Right now, the goal is to ensure we resume additional surgeries and procedures as safely as possible for patients, staff and physicians."