Not looking good: Manitobans face longest wait in Canada for cataract surgery

Manitobans wait longer than anyone else in Canada when it comes to cataract surgery, says a new report released on Tuesday.

Just 34 per cent of people in the province receive treatment within the national benchmark time of 16 weeks (112 days), states the report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. 

The national average sees 73 per cent of people being treated within the benchmark time — 50 per cent of patients are treated within 67 days and 90 per cent are treated within 192 days.

In Manitoba, 50 per cent of patients are treated within 148 days and 90 per cent within 289 days.

The 34 per cent benchmark achievement in 2016 is the lowest for Manitoba in the five years (2012-16) of data that the institute includes in the report. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, the province met the benchmark more than 60 per cent of the time.

"Manitoba has changed their numbers [and they're] not looking so good right now," said Tracy Johnson, CIHI's director of health system analysis.

That said, there's been a decrease across the country over the past five years, "so Manitoba is not the only province that's having a bit of trouble with cataracts," she said.

Johnson said she could only speculate on the reasons for the downturn.

"There's no one underlying issue across the country," she said. "In a smaller province, what can happen is you lose one ophthalmologist and that can make a huge impact on your wait list, because there's only a couple who may do those surgeries across an entire province."

Dr. Stephen Brodovsky, an ophthalmologist who specializes in corneal diseases at Winnipeg's Misericordia Health Centre, said the problem is two-fold — too much demand and not enough funding.

"With the current demographics and the aging population, the current demand for cataract surgery just exceeds the number of surgeries that we're funded for annually [by the province]," he said.

"Everyone would like to get their surgery done more quickly, so there's the stress of waiting but I think, in terms of overall quality of living, the impact is minimal at this stage. The majority of people who are waiting longer are still in a functional state, in terms of their vision [being] adequate for driving and most of their day-to-day activities.

"Essentially, we just have to have more funding from the government because we know that we're 1,000 or 2,000 cases per year short just in order to maintain the status quo."

The Canadian Institute for Health Information's report provides a snapshot of patient wait times for several priority medical procedures in 2016 — including replacements for hips and knees, radiation therapy, bypass surgery, CT and MRI scans and various cancer surgeries.

Not all procedures have national benchmark times, but the number of patients and general waiting times can be compared between provinces and through various years.

For those procedures where benchmarks do exist, aside from cataract surgery, the majority of Manitoba patients were treated within the expected timeframe in 2016. The province met the benchmark in those procedures 58 per cent to 100 per cent of the time.

The 100 per cent is for radiation therapy, which has a benchmark of 28 days.

"Manitoba is doing extremely well with radiation therapy, getting patients in as soon as possible," Johnson said.

As for cataract surgery across Canada, the province where patients receive the quickest treatment is Prince Edward Island, where 92 per cent of people are treated within the benchmark wait time (50 per cent treated within 70 days, and 90 per cent within 102 days).

Newfoundland and Labrador is right behind with 90 per cent of people being seen within the benchmark.