Backlog of surgeries will take months to fix amid COVID-19 crisis, Quebec health minister says

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube speaks to the media during the daily COVID-19 briefing Monday, August 3, 2020 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

It will take at least several months to overcome the long waiting lists for surgery in Quebec amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Health Minister Christian Dubé suggested that there is a lack of nurses in surgery wards as the health crisis continues.

On Tuesday, he was questioned by the official opposition about the 92,000 people awaiting surgery due to the slowdown in activities in hospitals last spring at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are 20,000 additional people waiting for surgeries compared to three months ago.

Liberal health critic Marie Montpetit said half of Montreal hospitals exceeded the 28-day standard for oncology surgeries last May. She called for a clear plan and a deadline.

“The minister must reassure the hundreds of thousands of Quebecers who are suffering and who are waiting,” she said.

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Dubé said about 40,000 surgeries are carried out each month for a total of about 450,000 per year.

“We have 90,000 to catch up on,” he said. “We will not catch up in two months.”

He says he has a “very clear plan” with Quebec’s federation of medical specialists (FMSQ) but there is a shortage of nursing staff.

In addition, several agreements have been negotiated with private clinics in recent months to take on overdue surgeries.

“There were clinics that were charging exaggerated prices. We have managed to negotiate fair prices over the last few weeks and then I think we will be able to work there. They are not only private clinics. There are many other solutions we are currently working on,” Dubé said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus outbreaks force surgery cancellations at 2 Montreal hospitals

However, the progression of the pandemic is looming over the minister’s plan. An increase in cases could lead to an increase in hospitalizations and cases transferred to intensive care.

In order not to overload the health-care system, it could also be necessary to take pressure off the network or cancel surgeries in the event of a second wave.

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“If we continue to have cases (of COVID-19 on the rise), we will not be able to put the plan in place,” said Dubé.

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