Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday May 13, 2021
On Doug Ford’s watch, a new health crisis looms
A soaring backlog of surgeries and medical tests is shaking Ontario’s health-care system to its core. And Doug Ford needs a second opinion on how to deal with it because nothing he’s done so far has worked.
In struggling with the crisis unleashed by COVID-19, the premier and his government have created a new one that could result in even more suffering and death than we’ve been witnessing. Simply put, people aren’t getting the care they need when they need it.
To be fair, Ontario’s health-care system had to implement major changes over the past year as it battled the pandemic. Public health officials had to redeploy finite resources — including doctors, nurses and hospital beds — so people who had fallen sick with COVID-19 could be treated.
But three weeks ago, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, shifted course in a more worrisome way. He ordered hospitals across the province to halt all non-emergency surgeries and non-urgent procedures. That didn’t impact only people waiting for hip or knee surgery, it also affected people needing cancer and cardiac treatments.
Now, a rising chorus of doctors is warning Dr. Williams’ order is too restrictive. They insist the system could expeditiously treat more patients with serious medical conditions without weakening the fight against COVID-19. One of the people speaking out is Dr. Robert Nam, a Toronto surgeon who says he’s “had to turn away referrals to help patients with cancer because of the provincial order to cancel elective surgery.”
“For cancer patients waiting for treatment … their hopes of being able to beat their disease have been severely harmed by the stroke of a pen,” he added.
What makes the situation even more frustrating for Dr. Nam is that it doesn’t have to be this way. He argues hospitals have the capacity to deal with COVID-19 but also other illnesses because they’ve “developed efficiencies and surgical techniques for cancer operations that do not require a hospital bed.”
But it’s not just where the health system is today that’s alarming; it’s where the province is headed that demands immediate action. According to Ontario’s science table, the pandemic-related surgical backlog had grown to 257,000 cases as of April. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the province’s Financial Accountability Office now predicts wait-lists of 419,000 surgeries and 2.5 million diagnostic tests and procedures by the end of September.
As it stands today, people aren’t getting the timely MRI tests that might reveal a serious medical condition. And as many as 500,000 women have had their breast-cancer screening delayed. But while some of those women might have developed breast cancer, they’ll have to wait for it to be diagnosed, then treated.
Even if the health-care system can offer surgeries, tests and procedures well above pre-pandemic levels for an extended period of time, it will take the province three and a half years to clear this backlog, the Financial Accountability Office said.
Given such numbers, it’s hard to believe Health Minister Christine Elliott when she says the government is on top of this problem. While the last provincial budget committed $610 million to clear the projected surgery and diagnostic procedures backlog, the Financial Accountability Office estimates it will cost $1.3 billion to get the job done.
Somewhere, this government must come up with $700 million to deal with the systemic backlogs that are increasing by the day. Somehow, it must find the staff and resources needed to confront two separate health-care crises. And somehow, it must learn to fight a health-care battle on two fronts and at the same time. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)