Alberta commits to eliminating pandemic surgery backlog by end of year

·2 min read
Health Minister Tyler Shandro says he plans to deliver on his promise to Albertans for shorter surgery wait times. (Government of Alberta - image credit)
Health Minister Tyler Shandro says he plans to deliver on his promise to Albertans for shorter surgery wait times. (Government of Alberta - image credit)

The province says that in the next fiscal year, starting April 1, the health system will provide 55,000 additional surgeries on top of the normal volume of 290,000, and by 2023 it plans to be able to to provide all scheduled surgeries within "clinically acceptable times."

Health Minister Tyler Shandro says this plan, which will receive $1.25 billion from the province's COVID-19 contingency in last week's budget, and $120 million from the Alberta Surgical Initiative, should eliminate the pandemic backlog of 36,000 surgeries by the end of the year.

"Even as AHS was forced to make specific changes to free up capacity, they pressed ahead where they could, and they've worked in partnership with Covenant Health and chartered surgical facilities to minimize delays for patients and the backlog of postponed surgeries," he said Friday.

Shandro says chartered surgical facilities began ramping up their surgical activity in December, especially cataract surgeries that have the largest wait lists.

This spring, the government will issue requests for proposals for additional capacity for ophthalmology and orthopedic surgical services, in March and May, respectively.

"By 2023, this plan means that chartered surgical facilities will offer Albertans 90,000 surgeries each year, far more than the current 40,000 surgeries each year," he said.

Opposition criticizes provincial plan

In a statement, NDP health critic David Shepherd attributed the number of Albertans waiting for surgeries to the province's "failure to act" as the second wave of COVID-19 rose.

"Now, [Premier Jason] Kenney and Tyler Shandro plan to Americanize our health care and lay off 11,000 front-line health-care heroes," Shepherd said. "Kenney's plan to bring more American-style profit into our public health-care system will harm Alberta patients and taxpayers.

"Every dollar taken out of Alberta health care as corporate profit is a dollar not available to strengthen the public system that has served Albertans so well through this pandemic."

Dr. Francois Belanger, chief medical officer and vice-president of quality for AHS, says seeking an expansion of procedures with chartered surgical facility partners will help manage demand and enhance capacity in high-need areas.

"Working in partnership with Alberta Health and these chartered surgical facilities, we are ensuring patients and families receive the surgery they need, when they need it, according to best practices and target benchmarks," he said. "These changes will improve access to surgery for patients, and will increase efficiency in our health-care system."

The province said more surgeries are also being performed at five hospital sites — in Edson, Innisfail, Peace River, Banff and Edmonton — which are dedicated to surgical patients. This means people won't face postponements due to space and resources being reserved for COVID-19 patients.

Shandro said that, all together, the province reduced the surgical wait list by almost 3,000 patients, from about 77,000 last spring to about 74,200 patients now.