Manitoba axes group set up by former PC government to tackle surgery backlog

In an announcement Friday morning, new Minister of Health Uzoma Asagwara promised supports for hospitals province-wide and announced the Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force would be "winding down". Joanne Roberts has more.

The Manitoba government is dissolving a group created nearly two years ago to tackle a backlog of surgeries and diagnostic tests caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara says the group, formed by the previous Progressive Conservative government, was supposed to be a short-term solution and has now served its purpose.

“We all know that there is nothing more difficult than knowing that you need help in healthcare but also knowing that you have to wait for that help. Whether it’s waiting for a diagnostic scan, waiting for surgery, waiting to get a family doctor, waiting to be placed into long-term care, waiting to be seen in an emergency room, for many Manitobans the healthcare system in this province has been more about waiting than it has been about diagnosing, healing and recovering,” said Minister Asagwara.

The group included physicians, members of the general public, and others, and looked at several options, including sending more patients out of province to get faster service.

Minister of Health Uzoma Asagwara addresses media at a press conference at The Grace Hospital on November 17th. (Photo Credit: Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

Asagwara says patients should be able to be close to their loved ones while recovering and sending people to other parts of the country or to the United States should not be the standard.

The province has approved the expansion of surgeries at the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg and the expansion of spinal surgeries at one hospital in Brandon and two in Winnipeg.

“Wait times for spine surgeries has been among some of the longest in our province. Many people live in pain for years waiting for their surgeries. People struggle to work, they struggle to raise their families to engage their communities, they feel isolated from their own communities while waiting for these important surgeries,” said Asagwara.

“We know that patients and their families have been struggling while they wait for these surgeries and this is one more step that our government is taking to deliver more surgeries, close to home for Manitobans.”

Manitoba will also be sending a mobile MRI machine to the Northern Regional Health Authority to reduce travel for patients living in the north.

“This will bring diagnostic services closer to home for many in the north who are faced with long waits and very complicated, at times, travel plans.”

As new change comes with the new government, Asagwara also addressed the Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force, which was established by the previous PC government. They say the new government will be “winding down” the task force. It has also closed the patient portal which previously connected patients to private care.

Asagwara says the new government’s focus is to sterngthen healthcare and improve access in Manitoba. (Photo Credit: Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

“Since their creation, the task force has spent millions of dollars sending Manitobans all across North America to private clinics, sometimes paying 7 times more for surgeries than what we would have spent if they had been done here at home in Manitoba.”

At the announcement, the Manitoba Health Coalition expressed its support.

“We have been concerned, from its inception, that the Task Force was set up by the previous government to put private profit over public health-care solutions. Doctors and health care providers expressed concerns with the Task Force’s emphasis on privatization while ignoring solutions within the public system,” said the MHC in a statement.

The MHC noted some examples, which included, private contracts with clinics out-of-province and out of Canada, signing a contract with the leading voice for for-profit health care in Canada, and signing a contract with Prota Clinic after it was found to have been illegally charging patients.

“Today’s announcement is a good first step in the process of repairing the damage of seven years of cuts, chaos and privatization. But there is much more work to do, from primary care to seniors’ care and beyond, to ensure that we have a public health care system that works for people, not profit.”

Asagwara says dissolving the task force was always the plan, as it was a temporary solution. They say it is no longer needed here in Manitoba, and instead, the new government believes in reinforcing healthcare within the province.

-With files from the Canadian Press

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