A new report commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) provides a stark overview of the broader impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Canadians. From delayed or missed treatments to a significant increase in the incidence of mental health and substance use disorders, the report highlights the dire consequences beyond the immediate loss of life and illness caused by the COVID-19 virus.
The report, A Struggling System: Understanding the Health Care Impacts of the Pandemic, conducted by Deloitte, shows that delayed or missed health care services may have contributed to more than 4,000 excess deaths not related to COVID-19 infections between August and December 2020.
“Over the past 20 months, COVID-19 overwhelmed our health system and the consequences to the broader patient population are now in plain sight. We are facing a significant backlog in procedures and treatments as well as more acute illnesses,” says Dr. Katharine Smart, CMA president. “The legacy of this pandemic — which is still ongoing — will be felt for years to come, and we must start working now to keep the backlog problem from becoming even worse.”
The report identifies several broad health impacts on Canadians, including an increase in opioid-related deaths to nearly 20 per day in the first three months of 2021.
- Two-thirds of Canadians living with chronic diseases reported having difficulty accessing care in 2020.
- Routine cancer screenings were paused during waves of the pandemic and remained 20%–35% below pre-pandemic levels as of January 2021 in Ontario.
- Nearly 60,000 fewer full home care assessments were completed between March and June 2020 than in the same period in 2019 in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.
- The food-insecure population in Canada grew by 39% in the first two months of the pandemic.
- The perceived threat of race- or ethnicity-based harassment of Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian minorities increased by 30%, 27% and 19%, respectively.
Backlogs of key procedures and increased wait times
The report also quantified the backlog for eight procedures and found the number of days lost to perform procedures ranges from 46 days for breast cancer surgeries to at least 118 days for hip replacement surgeries. An estimated $1.3 billion in additional funding will be required to return wait times for these procedures to their pre-pandemic levels, and the number may be even higher when the impact of the fourth wave of the pandemic is factored in.
“The pandemic has exacerbated existing problems including the health human resource crisis. It will take significant efforts and commitments to rebuild the health system and invest in our health workforce,” says Dr. Smart. “Last week we were pleased to see the federal government take significant action to protect health care workers and are encouraged that the government is also prioritizing health investment and addressing the backlog as indicated in last week’s throne speech.”