All elective heart surgeries scheduled for this week have been temporarily canceled in Manitoba.
In an emailed statement Friday evening, a spokesperson for Shared Health said the decision had been made to ensure there was enough intensive care unit capacity throughout the system before the weekend. .
There have been patient flow issues and staffing issues that have been compounded by patient demands, the statement said.
Three procedures were canceled on Friday, according to the spokesperson.
Dr Eric Jacobsohn, intensive care unit physician and cardiac anesthesiologist at St. Boniface Hospital, said cancellations have occurred intermittently over the past two years.
There are more than 230 patients currently on the waiting list for heart surgery, he said, of whom 80 are waiting longer than national referrals for the longest possible wait for patients.
More than 60 patients on that list are in the sickest category, he said.
“These patients can’t wait for heart surgery. And frankly what’s going on is triage,” he said in an interview with CBC on Saturday.
“We don’t sort out patients with COVID – patients are admitted to intensive care and only delay heart surgery, and it’s unequivocal, it’s clear and there’s no question that people are dying on the list of ‘waiting for heart surgery. “
Heart disease worsens over time, so by the time patients present for surgery, they are sicker due to the unacceptable time they have waited, he said.
“I think this is unacceptable.”
He added that there is also a “profound psychological impact” for some patients who arrive at the hospital, only to find that their surgery has been canceled.
“Patients do not have the option of leaving the province, and the current situation has frustrated the entire care community,” he said.
“We knew this was coming. We called on the government and all levels of leadership in the system to plan this,” he said.
Jacobsohn said he believed that in a public health care system there had to be public accountability when people died on a waiting list.
Details of the working group to come: Minister
The cancellations come as dozens of patients have been transferred to other Manitoba hospitals to make room for hospitals in Winnipeg during the province’s fourth wave of COVID-19 cases.
Earlier Friday, Shared Health said 62 patients had been transferred to facilities in other health regions, including 41 patients transferred from Winnipeg. Twenty-one others were transferred from Interlake East Health Region.
As of Thursday, 98 people were in intensive care units across Manitoba.
Shared Health said emergency heart surgeries are not affected. Surgeries scheduled for next week are under review.
Manitoba’s health minister said on Friday that a timeline to clear the province’s growing backlog of surgeries and diagnostic procedures was on its way.
Audrey Gordon said the province will also report publicly on the progress of this timeline and establish a task force to tackle the issue.
The government announced the creation of this task force weeks ago, but has not given more details.
He initially promised to reveal those details after the Speech from the Throne on November 23, then pushed back the announcement until the end of this week.
Now the reveal is slated for next Wednesday, Gordon said, adding that it has been delayed due to a scheduling issue with task force surgeons.
Recommendations for creating a timeline, reporting on progress, and establishing a working group come from Doctors Manitoba.
The advocacy group estimates that the number of surgeries and delayed procedures in the province is now 136,000 and increasing.
Later on Friday, NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara slammed Gordon for repeatedly pushing back the task force’s announcement.
“Manitobans have a right to know when they can finally have access to life-saving surgeries and diagnostic tests,” said the Member of Parliament for Union Station.
“And now all she’s done is hold off those anxieties, hold off people’s pain, hold off people’s worry for the duration of the weekend and until next week.”
Meanwhile, Manitoba’s years-long nursing shortage has worsened as the pandemic drags on.
Nursing vacancy rates now hover around 20 percent in several health regions across the province.
One of the highest rates is in Northern Health Region, which reported a 25.2% vacancy rate as of November 1.
The Southern Health Region’s rate was 21.2 percent at the end of September, while the Winnipeg Health Region reported a vacancy rate of 17.3 percent in October.