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Saskatchewan unveils plan to deal with surgical backlog caused by COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan unveils plan to deal with surgical backlog caused by COVID-19'
Saskatchewan unveils plan to deal with surgical backlog caused by COVID-19
WATCH: The Saskatchewan government aims to cut its surgical backlog down to a three-month wait by 2030 after the pandemic has left about 35,000 people waiting for procedures – Dec 9, 2021

The Saskatchewan government said aggressive actions will be taken to address the surgical backlog in the province caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The goal, the government said, is to achieve a three-month wait time by 2030.

Read more: Saskatchewan nurse speaks out about being deployed to ICU despite lack of training

“Delays in surgeries and medical procedures have taken a heavy toll on quality of life for thousands of Saskatchewan patients,” Premier Scott Moe said in a statement Thursday.

“While urgent life-saving surgeries were continuing to be performed through the pandemic, since March 2020 we know there were a large volume of surgeries that were delayed due to COVID-related surgical slowdowns.”

The province said in order to eliminate the current backlog, it has set a target of performing an additional 7,000 surgeries in 2022-23 over pre-pandemic levels.

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The emphasis will be on surgical procedures with the highest wait-lists, including hip and knee replacements; ear, nose and throat procedures; and dental and general surgeries.

Volume targets will increase by 6,000 in 2023-24 and 5,000 in 2024-25, the government said.

Read more: Saskatchewan health officials respond to first cases of Omicron variant

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the plan includes increasing capacity at Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) hospitals along with publicly funded private surgical clinics.

Merriman said there are currently 35,000 people currently waiting for surgeries in the province and he expects that number to grow as more people book appointments with their doctors and surgeons.

“My main priority right now is to try and get everybody that we can get their surgeries done in a timely, safe manner,” Merriman said during a briefing.

“This is a large hill for us to climb, but I’m very confident that we can do it with the addition of publicly funded private clinics.”

Merriman said the government is still determining which procedures will be done by private-sector clinics.

He was not able to put a cost on the new initiative.

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“It will probably be part of our budget process being announced because these numbers do run on the fiscal year.”

He added that once the backlog is eased, the government will assess if it will continue with the plan.

Merriman also said the SHA will be expanding and optimizing operating room hours and will make greater use of regional surgical sites to ease the backlog.

ICU capacity expansion

The Saskatchewan government also plans to expand the number of intensive care beds in the province to 110.

The number will increase from the current 79 to 90 by June 2022, and government officials said a long-term plan is being developed to achieve the target and ensure there is the right mix of critical care services across the province.

The SHA said it is adding 10 high-acuity beds in Regina to ease pressure on ICUs and to assist with patient transition between levels of care.

The beds are slated to open in the spring of 2022.

The SHA said it is also working with the Ministry of Health to develop a program to care for long-term ventilated patients outside of critical care situations.

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Officials said there has been an increase in the number of patients requiring long-term ventilation due to COVID-19.

Click to play video: 'No answers for Saskatoon family waiting for daughter’s surgery'
No answers for Saskatoon family waiting for daughter’s surgery

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