Canadian Medical Association

A new study commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) suggests at least $1.3 billion in additional funding is required to return to pre-pandemic wait times for six procedures. The report Clearing the Backlog: The Cost to Return Wait Times to Pre-Pandemic Levels quantifies the backlog resulting from the first wave of COVID-19 for six procedures, which together account for nearly 80% of the diagnostic and surgical care provided in hospitals in Canada.

“There is no doubt 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,” says Dr. Ann Collins, CMA president. “Clearing this growing backlog must be addressed promptly, recognizing that the resurgence of the pandemic may exacerbate the issue with other potential delays.”

The analysis considers the volume and cost of the backlog caused by COVID-19 and the financial investment needed to return to pre-pandemic wait times within one year. The report points out that wait times have increased by up to 75 days for cataract surgeries and 33 days for a CT scan. 

The study found that all provinces will require at least 15% more funding over baseline costs to return the wait times for all six procedures to pre-pandemic levels. The amount of additional funding needed varies by province because of factors such as accumulated backlog, capacity and the size of the population. The highest funding needed is in Ontario and Quebec because they have the largest populations, but PEI requires the largest percentage increase in funding.

The six procedures reviewed in the report are coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG), cataract surgeries, hip replacements, knee replacements, MRI scans and CT scans. The estimates do not include the impact on primary care services.

Number of days to be made up to return wait times to pre-pandemic levels: 
•    CABG: 34.4 days
•    Cataract: 75.5 days
•    Hip replacement: 55.7 days
•    Knee replacement: 64.7 days
•    MRI scan: 52.0 days
•    CT scan: 33.1 days

Additional costs to clear backlog:
•    CABG: $103.3M
•    Cataract: $357.4M
•    Hip replacement: $77.4M
•    Knee replacement: $101.2M
•    MRI scan: $377.0M
•    CT scan: $377.0M

In a submission to the federal government in August, the CMA called on the government to create a one-time Health Care and Innovation Fund to resume health care services, bolster public health capacity and expand primary care teams. 

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