Canadian Medical Association

Returning wait times to pre-pandemic levels for six key procedures will cost at least $1.3B, says a new report commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) on the backlog caused by COVID-19.

“There are no doubts that the impact of the pandemic will be felt for years to come. But for many Canadians, it could become a serious quality of life issue as they wait for their procedures.” – Dr. Ann Collins, CMA president

The Deloitte study, Clearing the Backlog: The Cost to Return Wait Times to Pre-Pandemic Levels, examined the financial investment needed to return procedure wait times to pre-pandemic levels, within one year.

It considered six procedures: coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), cataract surgeries, hip replacements, knee replacements, MRI scans and CT scans. Collectively, these account for nearly 80% of the diagnostic and surgical care provided in hospitals across Canada.

The report found, for example, that patients are waiting 75 days longer for cataract surgeries and 33 more days for CT scans than they did before the pandemic. The cost to return these wait times to pre-pandemic levels would be $357.4M and $377.0M. respectively.

Wait time delays due to the first wave of COVID-19 and additional costs to clear the backlog (estimates don’t include impact on primary care services):

  • CABG: 34.4 days; $103.3M
  • Cataract: 75.5 days; $357.4M
  • Hip replacement: 55.7 days; $77.4M
  • Knee replacement 64.7 days; $101.2M
  • MRI scan: 52.0 days; $377.0M
  • CT scan: 33.1 days; $377.0M

All provinces will require at least 15% more funding over baseline costs to return wait times to pre-pandemic levels, but the needs of individual provinces vary because of differences in several factors. These include accumulated backlog, capacity and population size.

Ontario and Quebec require the largest funding boost because they have the largest populations; however, Prince Edward Island will need the highest percentage increase in health care funding to cover costs.

“Clearing this growing backlog must be addressed promptly recognizing the resurgence of the pandemic may exacerbate the issue with other potential delays.” – Dr. Ann Collins, CMA president

The commissioning of this expert study is part of the CMA’s ongoing work to push for policies that will assist in pandemic recovery. The association is calling on the federal government to include a Health Care and Innovation Fund in its upcoming budget to help resume health care services, bolster public health capacity and expand primary care teams.

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