In her first speech from the throne, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson said health care is one of her government’s top priorities, but some medical professionals aren’t so sure.
After listening to the premier outline her government’s plans for the coming year Tuesday, Doctors Manitoba president Dr. Kristjan Thompson said he was concerned by a lack of specifics in the speech and urgency in the plans.
The advocacy group representing 4,000 provincial doctors released data Monday estimating surgical and diagnostic backlogs due to COVID-19 have hit more than 136,000 cases.
“This is 10 per cent of our population — it’s a huge issue,” Thompson said Tuesday. “There weren’t real specifics about how the government’s going to clear this staggering backlog.
“These are Manitobans waiting in pain who are suffering.”
The throne speech did promise 400 new nurse training positions with a practical nursing program for up to 20 students in the north and said previous plans to reform rural health care will be re-examined to ensure equitable access.
The speech also reiterated an earlier promise to set up a group that would include health-care workers to help tackle a backlog in surgeries caused by COVID-19, but as Thompson points out, there was no firm date announced.
“This should be happening in the coming days — this should have happened back in June when we first called for this,” Thompson said of the planned task force.
In the meantime, Thompson says wait lists will only getting longer and the backlog will only get larger.
In the last month alone, Doctors Manitoba estimates 6,000 more procedures have been put on hold.
“Manitobans caught in this massive backlog, they need hope, they need to see action,” he said.
“They need to see that help is on the way. And unfortunately, today they were left waiting again.”
In the speech, Stefanson also said federal health transfers will be key to helping the province’s health-care system.
But Winnipeg-based epidemiologist Cynthia Carr warns it’s going to take more than money to get through and recover from COVID-19.
“You still need to have the appropriate resources to accommodate need. Do you have enough operating rooms? Do you have enough equipment? Do you have enough specialized staff?” Carr told Global News after the throne speech.
“Even if you had a ton of money poured in tomorrow, not everything can be addressed immediately because there are other steps that need to take place with training, with space, with resources, all of those things.”
While Carr applauded Stefanson’s commitment to hire more nurses, she’s concerned the government is forgetting the lessons it should have learned through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re not really good at investing in public health; it’s not seen as sexy,” Carr said. “It’s long-term investment for which you don’t see an immediate gain.
“That can be very difficult to convince government to invest in.”
The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals said staff shortages need to be addressed immediately.
“Manitobans won’t get to the emergency room without paramedics, and those ERs won’t be open unless there are enough technologists to analyze the blood work or take X-rays,” said association president Bob Moroz.
The opposition parties said the throne speech was long on vague promises and short on action.
“All governments should be listening to their citizens, but while we’re … doing that, things are getting worse here in Manitoba,” NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine said.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the government has had plenty of time to develop a plan to reduce the surgery backlog.
“That backlog has been growing by 1,000 procedures and tests every single week … this is a crisis,” he said.
— with files from Brittany Greenslade and The Canadian Press