Ontario commits $324M for medical backlogs caused by COVID-19

The Ontario government has now set aside $324 million to help clear a growing backlog in surgeries and other medical procedures as the pandemic eases, allowing hospitals to ramp up to 115 per cent capacity to deal with the expected overload.

“Throughout the pandemic our government has worked closely with Ontario health, and our health system partners to ensure that Ontarians have access to the surgeries and procedures they need,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Wednesday.

“Thanks to the ongoing efforts across our health system, as well as targeted government initiatives, 76 per cent of all patients who are on the surgical wait list between March 1, 2020 and March 1, 2021 have received the care they need. And by prioritizing urgent surgical patients throughout the pandemic, 99.3 per cent of the most urgent patient surgeries have been completed.”

However, as restrictions are lifted and patients feel more comfortable seeking medical help, the province is expecting to see a surge in demand for procedures and is spending the money “as part of a comprehensive surgical recovery plan to address wait times, improve access to care and support our government’s commitment to end hallway health care,” Elliott said.

The funds will allow hospitals to offer procedures in the evenings and on weekends, with an overall 67,000 extra surgeries in addition to the projected 650,000 over the next year.

“Over 75,000 additional hours of MRI scanning and over 60,000 additional hours of CT scanning will be enabled across the health-care system,” Elliott added, with “an overall increase of 12 per cent in hours for both forms of imaging.”

But NDP health critic France Gélinas said the plan falls far short of what’s needed.

“The Ford government is robbing Ontarians of hope by refusing to do more,” said the MPP for Nickel Belt. “People are waiting in pain and worry for surgeries. Where’s the major strategy we need to tackle the massive and growing surgical backlog in Ontario? Where’s the urgent infusion of funding and staff?”

Gélinas added that “virtually nothing has changed since Ford underfunded clearing the surgical backlog by $700 million dollars in the budget, and Ontarians are paying dearly. The Ford government’s so-called plan still has no targets or benchmarks, and no plan to hire more staff — despite dwindling numbers as front-line health care heroes cope with burnout and exhaustion.”

In its spring budget, the province set aside some $300 million to clear the backlog, but has now bumped that amount up to $324 million.

During the pandemic, hospitals had twice been ordered by the province’s chief medical officer of health to postpone all non-urgent surgeries because of the COVID-19 overload.