New prescription for tackling pandemic surgery backlog

Residents in Windsor-Essex are waiting longer than recommended for hip and knee surgeries compared to Ontarians in other parts of the province according to the Ontario Medical Association.

The OMA says Ontario’s doctors have made sweeping recommendations for clearing the pandemic surgery backlog, fixing wait times, easing the doctor shortage and addressing mental health and addiction in a plan they want to be considered by all political parties ahead of the next provincial election.

“It’s not an acceptable situation,” says Dr. Albert Ng, chair of the local Ontario Medical Association district. “Our wait times are certainly longer than the rest of the province.”

The Ontario Medical Association represents more than 43,000 physicians, medical students and retired physicians.

Last month, Windsor Regional Hospital reported the backlog of surgeries was lower than it was pre-pandemic.

Hospital officials declined to comment Wednesday on the current backlog status.

Ng says the OMA is calling on all political parties to adopt the Prescription for Ontario: Doctors’ 5-Point Plan for Better Health Care. It includes 87 recommendations to strengthen the healthcare system which officials believe should be part of all political platforms ahead of the June 2 election.

“People across Ontario are waiting longer for surgeries and MRIs than the province’s own recommendations, and the wait times are even longer for patients here in Windsor and nearby communities,” says Ng. “Physicians and other health-care workers are doing everything they can to get patients the care they need, but they need help from the province.”

According to the association, about 29 per cent of Ontarians who receive knee surgery waited longer than provincial targets along with 43 per cent who had hip surgery. In the Windsor region though, between 43-46 per cent of people waited longer for knee surgery and 60-89 per cent waited longer for hip surgery, depending on where the procedure was performed and how urgently it was needed.

The OMA says provincial guidelines recommend knee and hip surgeries be performed within a range of 42 to 182 days from the time of decision to surgery, depending on how urgent the procedure is considered.

For MRIs, about 63 per cent of Ontarians waited longer than recommended, with 55 to 58 per cent of people in the Windsor area waiting longer.

To help address wait times issue, the OMA recently released a report recommending the adoption of Integrated Ambulatory Centerspublicly funded, free standing centers that could perform less complex surgeries and procedures on an outpatient basis and relieve the pressure on hospitals.

“This is not privatization of health care and I know as we come into the election, that’s going to be a hot topic,” says Dr. Ng. “It’s understanding that it’s not something new in that we already have what we call independent health facilities, which already do some things outside of the hospital.”

Ng suggests more medical procedures could be performed outside of a hospital setting, confident it would not lead to eventual privatization.

“By and large, these people who are going in for surgery are healthy people,” Ng says. “So when you have healthy people, they probably would do better in an area where there isn’t illness, where you’re not treating other things and have the risk of actually getting sick from other things in the hospital setting.”

An ipsos-survey conducted for the OMA found Ontarians want the government to prioritize clearing the pandemic backlog, even if it means a short-term impact on economic recovery.

When asked by Ipsos to identify the issue most important to them, 40 per cent chose addressing COVID-19, followed by 10 per cent who said access to health care/long wait times/understaffed hospitals. Seven per cent said economic growth should be the government priority.

Another survey conducted for the OMA found that reducing wait times and investing in hospitals, clinics and health-care facilities were key priorities to improve health care in Windsor and surrounding communities.

“These are not hard to set up,” Ng adds. “There are physicians out there who already have centers that they’re doing surgeries in their office already. And it’s just to be able to get the okay from government to say they’re going to fund it for all the other surgeries.”

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