Endoscopy waiting list in northern balloons

The number of endoscopic procedures performed at the largest hospital in northern Manitoba nearly came to a halt during the summer due to understaffing in the area.

Wait time statistics compiled by the Northern Regional Health Authority and obtained by the Manitoba NDP as part of an access to information request show that endoscopies at Thompson General Hospital have dropped by 54% in July and 88% in August, compared to June.

The slowdown can be attributed, in part, to staff vacations during the summer, said Craig Hillier, NRHA’s executive director of clinical services for Thompson and the region.

Given the smaller pool of staff in the northern community, the hospital was unable to maintain procedural volumes while COVID-19 cases remained at relatively low levels in July and August, Hillier said.

According to the waiting list document, endoscopy lists were reduced through July and August due to “staff resources”, while the October and November procedures were canceled due to the availability of surgeons.

“In a remote northern community like Thompson, you might have a dozen or 15 people who are trained to do this job,” Hillier said. “We don’t have the capacity to reach out and attract dozens of more people like they would in a big center.”

According to Hillier, there were 692 people on the waiting list for endoscopy at Thompson General as of Friday, an increase of nearly 60 patients since the end of October.

The procedure is performed to diagnose and screen for a number of diseases, including colon cancer.

On average, the hospital is able to do about 40 endoscopies per week and sometimes calls in specialists to double the number of procedures typically performed, Hillier said.

NDP opposition leader Wab Kinew said the document confirms access to health services in the North has deteriorated over the past two years.

“What really strikes me is the trend here, over time we are seeing the numbers increase, and so while we are all becoming more aware of the impacts on people’s lives while waiting for diagnoses, things are changing in the wrong direction, ”Kinew said.

“You would think that after two years we would have found a way both to muster a response against COVID while ensuring that people can undergo surgeries and diagnostic procedures.”

To date, the provincial government has not provided a solid estimate of the number of surgeries and diagnostic procedures that have been delayed due to the pandemic.

The total surgical backlog could number between 25,000 and 35,000 patients, according to the province’s recently established surgical and diagnostic recovery working group. It is expected to deliver its first report in early 2022, which could include a timeline for clearing the backlog.

Kinew called on the provincial government to call in the military to help in intensive care units as a way to refer staff to other parts of the healthcare system.

Doctors Manitoba, which has been monitoring the backlog of surgeries since June, estimates that more than 152,000 surgeries and procedures have been delayed due to the pandemic, including 11,000 endoscopies.

President Dr Kristjan Thompson said he feared more diagnostic and surgical procedures might be canceled in the coming weeks due to the new, more infectious Omicron variant and a hospital system already on the brink. from the abyss.

“We in our health care system are at full capacity,” said Thompson. “What we are seeing are surgical procedures, diagnostic procedures postponed or canceled due to nurses and other healthcare professionals having to staff our intensive care units and COVID services. ”

Thompson General Hospital was lucky, as surgical staff were largely able to stay in the operating room rather than being seconded for COVID-19 care, Hillier said.

“They worked very hard and we had very good partnerships with doctors to move this work forward,” he said.

He acknowledged that the waitlist for endoscopy in the North is growing and noted that the region is constantly reaching out to partners and physicians from other parts of the province to offer operating room time.

“OR time is a precious commodity in the province,” said Hillier. “If there are people looking to come and do work, we certainly invite well-qualified doctors to do that work.”

– With files from Katie May

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Danielle Da Silva

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