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Doctors Manitoba Warns COVID-19 Pushing Health-Care System Close to ‘the Brink’

December 7, 2021 3:24 PM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Health Sciences Centre - ICU

A red (COVID-19 positive) intensive care unit is shown at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg on December 8, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mikaela MacKenzie – POOL)

WINNIPEG — There’s a growing backlog of surgeries and more cancellations of key procedures as the COVID-19 pandemic wears on in Manitoba, says the group that represents physicians across the province.

“We are very close to being on the brink,” Dr. Kristjan Thompson, president of Doctors Manitoba, said Tuesday.

“This pandemic has shown just how little flex there is in our health-care system.”

To deal with the rising number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units, the province has shifted resources from other areas. It has reduced the number of surgeries and diagnostic tests. In recent days, it cancelled some non-urgent cardiac surgeries to ensure there were enough staff to cover intensive care beds.

The backlog of tests and surgeries has grown each month, tracking by Doctors Manitoba indicates. The group’s latest data says the surgery backlog increased by more than 2,300 last month to top 56,000 for the first time.

Most diagnostic tests, including mammograms and ultrasounds, saw a bigger backlog as well, while the wait-list for MRIs decreased slightly.


Thompson said he fears the province is getting close to the dire situation it was in last spring when dozens of intensive care patients had to be flown to other provinces because of a lack of beds.

Even though the number of people in intensive care is lower than during the peak last spring, the situation is problematic now because nurses and other workers are leaving ICUs and emergency departments, he said.

“There’s a lot of people who are just becoming fed up, who have left to work in other sectors of health care, other different medical specialties,” Thompson said.

“I think people are leaving because they feel they can’t care for the patients the way that they ought to.”

The office of Health Minister Audrey Gordon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Gordon has promised she will introduce a new working group Wednesday to reduce the backlogs.

The Doctors Manitoba statistics came out the same day the province announced its first known COVID-19 case involving the Omicron variant.

The province said the person was experiencing mild symptoms and had travelled from one of the 10 African countries the federal government has placed restrictions on because of the variant.

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