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ONTARIO: Ford prepared to ask surgeons to start working weekends to clear backlog

Ford's comments came 10 days after modelling research painted a stark picture of surgery wait times across the province
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TORONTO — Ontario's surgeons may be asked to start working weekends in order to clear a major backlog of procedures delayed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province's premier said Thursday as he pledged funding to help tackle the issue.

Doug Ford's comments came 10 days after modelling research painted a stark picture of surgery wait times across the province.

The data, published earlier this month in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggested more than 148,000 procedures were postponed between mid-March, when elective operations were cancelled due to the lockdown, and May, when those restrictions eased. Researchers estimated the backlog would take at least a year and a half to clear.

Ford pegged the backlog at more than 180,000 on Thursday as he said government officials are working on solutions to address the issue.

"We're working with our minister of health and our health table to see if we can open up a lot of these surgery rooms," Ford said at a news conference. "We have funding to ask the docs ... and the hospitals to open up surgeries, start working Saturdays and Sundays to get rid of the backlog."

The modelling research, published on Sept. 1, did not account for additional physician hours in its projections. But the data suggested the wait list could be eliminated in 84 weeks if practitioners hit a target of 717 procedures a week.

Its authors said the data could play an important role in health planning moving forward.

"The magnitude of the surgical backlog from COVID-19 raises important implications for planning for the recovery phase and for possible second waves of the pandemic in Ontario," study co-author Dr. Jonathan Irish, a surgeon at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, said when the research was published.

The researchers argued health systems "cannot go back to business as usual'' if they want to manage the impact on patients, and must find innovative solutions to prepare for future waves of the novel coronavirus.

Ford did not indicate how much money the government has earmarked to cover the cost of additional surgeon hours or operating room time, simply saying "the funds are there."

The Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment on what steps are being taken to tackle the waiting list.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2020.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press