The Alberta government says Albertans will have the best access to scheduled surgery in Canada by 2023 in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alberta health officials announced today that the province has managed to cut the scheduled surgery backlog caused by the pandemic by 88 percent.
Early in the pandemic, Alberta Health Services (AHS) estimated Alberta would be facing a backlog of up to two years. Beginning March 18th, all scheduled surgeries were put on hold until May 4th. This resulted in a 60 percent reduction in surgeries, leading to a backlog of about 25,000 surgeries.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro acknowledged this backlog in a news conference today but said the government’s platform commitment to reduce surgical wait times will be met by 2023.
The government has developed a plan to clear the backlog and will increase surgical activity volume to 150% to meet the 2023 Alberta Surgical Initiative (ASI) platform commitment of providing all scheduled surgery within clinically acceptable times.
Shandro said the plan has so far reduced the backlog of surgeries by 88 percent.
In order to meet wait time targets, new and existing chartered surgical facilities in urban and rural communities will be significantly expanded to provide more publicly funded surgeries, leaving hospital operating rooms available to perform more complex surgeries. The province says a formal request for proposals (RFP) for contracts will be posted by AHS in the fall of 2020.
The government says a February 2020 request for expressions of interest generated 42 submissions from existing chartered surgical facilities or new operators who have proposed to provide up to 200,000 more surgeries in facilities in all five provincial health zones.
In March 2020, the province committed $100 million to renovate, equip and open new operating rooms in urban and rural public hospitals across Alberta so they can provide more surgeries to Albertans. In an update on that initiative, the province says the planning work began earlier this year, with designs beginning in August and construction expected to start in 2021.
A new Indigenous stream grant program has also been created to support First Nations communities interested in developing proposals under the RFP. Six First Nations communities will be eligible for grants of up to $50,000:
• Enoch Cree Nation, west of Edmonton
• Maskwacis, home to four Cree First Nation bands southeast of Edmonton
• Tsuut’ina Nation, southwest of Calgary
• Bigstone Cree Nation, southwest of Fort McMurray, with a health facility in Edmonton
• Siksika Nation, southeast of Calgary
• Blood Tribe, southwest of Lethbridge
“Our platform commitment to reduce surgical wait times will be met, pandemic, or no pandemic,” said Shandro. “Reducing the backlog by 88 percent is a good first step – but we will need to push even harder in the months to come. I am also incredibly honoured to announce an Indigenous funding grant stream that will open up the opportunity for First Nations communities to establish a chartered surgical facility on reserve.”
As of Sept. 9, AHS is performing almost 85 percent of pre-pandemic surgical volume compared to the low of 40 percent early in the pandemic. Health officials say AHS continues to increase volume and will reach 100 percent before the end of the year.
AHS will then exceed pre-COVID surgical volumes early in 2021, reaching 125 percent and then up to 150 percent in order to reach 2023 Alberta Surgical Initiative targets.