Will wait times ever get back to pre-pandemic levels?

 In COVID-19 Screening Tool, English

Last Monday, I mentioned the recent Deloitte study conducted for the Canadian Medical Association that said Ontario would need $527.7 million in funding to return to pre-COVID wait times. Read last week’s blog on elective procedure delays and the risks we face.

On Thursday, Ontario’s Finance Minister Rod Phillips presented the province’s 2020-2021 budget which directed $283.7 million in funding to reduce the backlog of over 180,000 surgeries and 380,000 diagnostic scans and to help hospitals manage their capacities during COVID and especially in Flu season. This investment will enable doctors to perform over 60,000 surgeries – a third of the backlog – ranging from cancer and cardiac surgery to orthopedics and cataract surgery. 

Ontario is also spending $176 million new dollars to reduce wait times for critical mental health and addiction support.

This won’t get the province back to pre-COVID levels, but it’s a good start.

The better news is that Ontario isn’t alone in stepping up with new backstop funding to keep the health-care system working. I dug into what other provinces are doing, and it turns out that three out of four that have had a budget announcement since June have also set aside more money to reduce surgical backlogs and open access to mental health services.

Aside from Ontario, Saskatchewan and PEI have also committed new funds. 

The Deloitte study said that Saskatchewan would need $46.8 million more to clear its backlog. On June 15th, its Health Minister Jim Reiter announced $20 million to reduce surgical wait times, and $435 million for mental health and addiction services – on a health budget of $5.8 billion.

The Deloitte study also said that PEI would need $7.7 million more to clear its surgical backlog. On June 17th, its Finance Minister announced $3 million for that plus $2 million to improve mental health services. 

The outlier province here is Newfoundland and Labrador which set aside in its September 30th budget no funds at all to address wait times, though they did announce $3.3 million to improve virtual care and $1.7 to expand the Insulin Pump Program.

This begs the obvious question. 

With Canada enduring a second wave of the coronavirus, with Flu season coming up and hospitals stretched to breaking in terms of emergency and acute care beds, will the provinces continue to provide ‘special funding’ to reduce wait times in December and January by more than what they’ve committed so far.

Money is scarce everywhere, especially in provincial coffers. But if ever a marginal dollar deserved to be spent in providing timely service for elective surgeries soon when the cost of not spending that dollar will be so much more down the road – not just in terms of public money, but family misery and even tragedy – it’s in cutting wait times to pre-COVID levels.

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