The waiting lists for operations, including necessary cancer surgeries and non-elective operations, are rapidly increasing in Quebec. In October, the waiting list for cancer surgeries reached 4,401 patients, representing an increase from 4,160 in January. The waiting lists for non-elective surgeries grew by approximately 2,000 patients.
„We are already losing cancer and heart patients among the 160,000 people waiting for surgical procedures,“ said Paul G. Brunet, chair of the Council for the Protection of Patients in Montreal, in Medical News from Medscape.
„Long wait times affect all facilities in the province,“ stated Annie-Claire Fournier, media advisor at the McGill University Health Center (MUHC) in Medical News from Medscape. „Here at the MUHC, we regularly assess all patients awaiting surgery to ensure that the severity of their case has not changed. We are diligently working to operate on all patients as quickly as possible. We understand that waiting for surgery is a stressful time for a patient, and we are aware of the impact this situation can have on them.“
The Quebec government’s goal for the surgical wait time for cancer patients is that „90% of patients should have their surgery within 28 days of the surgeon’s request, regardless of the severity of the condition or the priority level of the operation,“ according to the Rossy Cancer Network, affiliated with the MUHC. It also aims for 100% of patients to be operated on within 56 days of the request.
In September, André Fortin, a representative of the National Assembly of Quebec and a health critic for the Liberal Party, stated that the province’s government first presented a plan to address the waiting list in June 2021 when 353 cancer patients waited more than 100,000 years for 56 days for their operation. This year, the number of cancer patients waiting for more than 56 days increased to almost 1,000.
Quebec’s Minister of Health, Christiane Dubé, attributed the increasing delays to intermittent nurses‘ strikes, estimating that 500 operations were postponed on each strike day. However, Marie-Claude Lacasse, a spokesperson for the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services, told Medscape Medical News that while the strikes resulted in a „temporary slowdown“ of certain activities, only elective surgeries, and not urgent, semi-urgent, or oncological surgeries, were affected.
Brunet viewed the current situation from a broader perspective. He stated that „the consequences of the pandemic, winter flu, and personnel shortages due to the departure of staff from public health facilities contribute to the delays.“ Additionally, he added, „The historical trend of the last 40 years to centralize healthcare in hospitals“ and „the transfer of all people to emergency rooms have led to the current crises in Quebec and likely other Canadian provinces as well.“
What’s Being Done?
On December 9, the Coalition Avenir Québec government passed Dubé’s extensive healthcare reform legislation, Bill 15. In a press conference the same day, Dubé stated that the implementation of the bill included a commitment that a patient who has not undergone an operation „within a reasonable time“ from their provider may be „sent to another location in the network or even privately at no cost.“
Dubé anticipates appointing the CEO of the Santé Québec Crown Corporation, which will oversee the new healthcare system, by spring 2024. He also said that the staff of the healthcare network can expect „significant changes“ in the coming months.
To address the current waiting list crisis, Brunet recently asked, „Are we doing everything that we can to reduce these waiting lists? Have we considered making arrangements with all privately authorized clinics to perform more surgeries? Have we considered sending some patients to Ontario for surgery? Have we considered going to the states…?“
Currently, it appears that individual healthcare systems are on their own, attempting to alleviate the burden of waiting lists. „The MUHC is closely monitoring the situation to ensure that there are no impacts on urgent cases,“ said Fournier. „We are committed to the health and safety of our patients.“