‘I have never seen it this bad’: Doctors Manitoba warns of stretched system as surgery backlog, health-care delays continue to grow

Doctors Manitoba says the health-care system does not have the surge capacity to deal with a wave of Omicron as the backlog of procedures and delays in health-care continues to grow.

New estimates from Doctors Manitoba show the total pandemic backlog for diagnostic and surgical procedures has grown again, now estimated at 153,320 cases as of November and December 2021 – a jump of 1,204 since last month’s estimate.

Dr. Kristjan Thompson, president of Doctors Manitoba and an emergency medicine physician, said this estimate covers a period before the Omicron wave had hit the province and Doctors Manitoba expects this backlog to jump in the next month.

“I also want to stress that these aren’t just numbers – this is 10 per cent of our population,” he said. “If you are not one of the unfortunate Manitobans left waiting, then you almost certainly have a friend, a family member, a loved one who is waiting in pain, waiting in fear or uncertainty.”

However, it’s not just the surgery and diagnostic procedures that are backlogged. Thompson said the province is also seeing a backup in care across the entire health-care system, including access to hospital beds, emergency room care, ambulance availability, outpatient and medical clinics.

“Right now, it is very difficult to provide timely care for patients and unfortunately I have never seen it this bad,” Thompson said, adding it is not uncommon for patients to wait days in the emergency room for admission.

Thompson said last week he had a patient waiting 10 hours with appendicitis.

“We just didn’t have a bed to take care of him,” he said. “This patient waited 10 hours, suffering in agony.”

He said there was another patient with metastatic cancer waiting in the emergency room hallway throwing up in a bucket.

“The only thing I can do is bring him a wet cold towel and another bucket,” he said.

Thompson said in the coming weeks, Manitobans will see more delays when seeking care because of the stretched capacity and limited resources in the health-care system.

“We just do not have the surge capacity to deal with the volumes that we are seeing,” he said.

Despite this, he said it is not the time for Manitobans to give up, adding all that would do is flood the health-care system.

“We should take all the steps that we can to avoid spreading it to the people around us,” he said.

“We need to do everything that we can right now to reduce the number of people who get COVID all at once – our hospitals simply cannot cope with that surge in volume and acuity.”

Thompson called on people to reduce their contacts, wear a high-quality mask and get vaccinated or boosted as soon as they are eligible.

Doctors Manitoba said people should still seek medical care when they need it, but should expect the wait times and delays. 

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