Health-care delays from COVID-19 won’t improve without major fed support: Pallister

The coronavirus pandemic has caused major backlogs and delays in accessing health care across the country and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says things will only get worse without major federal help.

In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, Pallister said the delays in accessing health care were a significant problem before the pandemic hit and that provinces do not have deep enough coffers to bring down wait times set to worsen as Baby Boomers age.

“This is an emerging long-term problem. It’s worsened over years now and it’s going to get worse. More and more Canadians are experiencing this personally,” he said.

“We can’t just put it off another year or two or five. It’s going to get worse. And as it gets worse, real people — friends of yours and mine — are going to be impacted.

More than 400,000 elective surgeries have been delayed across the country by the pandemic as hospitals and health-care facilities pushed everything that could be pushed earlier this year in order to prepare for a potential flood of cases of individuals requiring intensive care.

The fear was that the Canadian health-care system could be stretched beyond its ability to deliver care to critical cases, as was the situation in Italy and other countries where the virus tore through populations.

That has not been the case in Canada so far, though many regions of the country are now in what officials have described as the second wave of the coronavirus.

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Yet as cases rise, many are also still grappling with massive backlogs that have been accumulating for years and were exacerbated by the delays earlier this year.

Manitoba is one of the provinces that has turned to contracting out more surgeries and procedures in a bid to help tackle the backlog: the province announced contracts with two private and three public facilities last month to do services like orthopaedic surgeries, echocardiograms and urology tests.

Ontario, facing a pandemic backlog estimated to take 84 weeks to clear, also said last week it will roll out $283.7 million for priority surgeries and extend hours at diagnostic imaging facilities, along with creating new hospital beds at hospitals and “alternate health facilities.”

B.C. health officials initially estimated their backlog of more than 30,000 surgeries postponed by the pandemic would take 15 months to clear, but has reportedly cleared roughly 66 per cent of the backlog.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already rolled out $14 billion for the provinces under a plan to restart the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, with funding going to things like safely reopening schools, purchasing personal protective equipment, paid sick leave and child care.

Roughly $10 billion of that plan is earmarked for health-related expenses.

But the premiers of both Quebec and Ontario also took Trudeau to task recently arguing that the government needs to increase federal health transfers to help the systems cope with the chronic problems in health care that the pandemic is making worse.

The federal government health-care transfer to the provinces is expected to be $43 billion this year.

That’s slated to increase three per cent each year going forward.

Pallister said the current transfers only cover 20 per cent of provincial health care costs whereas, in the past, the federal government has provided health transfers covering 50 per cent.

It has been decades, however, since that was the case.

“This is a problem that COVID has made worse, but it wasn’t a new problem,” he said.

“We’ve been asking this federal government as premiers united that this be addressed for a long, long time and it was ignored and it can’t be ignored any longer.”

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