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Manitoba considering sending patients to Fargo, N.D., amid diagnostic and surgical backlog

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Manitoba's health minister has released details on a plan that could see some patients sent to Fargo, North Dakota to help alleviate a surgical and diagnostic backlog in the province.

On Wednesday, Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon along with several members of the Diagnostic and Surgical Recovery Task Force outlined four measures the province will take to address the backlog.

Gordon said the province is working on an agreement with Sanford Health in Fargo for specialty spine services as part of Manitoba's out-of-province medical referrals program. She said no surgeries are scheduled at this time, but said this will be an interim measure when the situation is safe and Sanford is in a position to deliver the services effectively and safely.

A spokesperson for Sanford Health told CTV News it is not preparing to accept any new patients from Manitoba in the immediate future. They said Sanford Health will only accept patients, "At a mutually agreed upon time as the pandemic and our capacity allows."

The Sanford Health spokesperson said the agreement is not signed at this point, but they expect it to be finalized in the near future.

The province said this option will be available to certain people by referral from their healthcare provider. It said this would typically be for people with conditions including spinal stenosis and chronic degenerative disc disease.

The province said the service will be offered later in the year as capacity allowed at Sanford Health Fargo.

CUTTING DOWN GYNECOLOGICAL PROCEDURES WAITLIST

Gordon said the province is also working on an agreement with Maples Surgical Centre, and several other local partners to improve women's health. Gordon said there are about 3,000 women are currently waiting for gynecological procedures.

Dr. Peter MacDonald, the chair of the task force's steering committee, said some of the women have been waiting since 2019, and about two-thirds of the cases are eligible for day surgery. He said the task force expects this agreement could accommodate up to 1,000 cases.

SHIFTING COLON CANCER SCREENING PROCESS

Gordon said the province is also shifting how it screens for colon cancer to a diagnostic process called fecal immunochemical testing (FIT). She said FIT screening does not require an endoscopy, and as a result, it will allow for faster screening and will free up more operating room space for other procedures.

"This is a minimally invasive, highly accurate test – much more accurate and specific than the occult fecal blood test," MacDonald said. "This will lessen the backlog for endoscopies, specifically colonoscopies, by up to 10 to 15 per cent."

He said other initiatives are being explored in the endoscopy area and will be announced in the future.

HIRING MORE ANESTHESIA CLINICAL ASSISTANTS

Under the fourth measure, Gordon said the province plans to hire and train up to 13 new anesthesia clinical assistants over the next three years who will be placed in operating rooms across the province.

'Anesthesia services are fundamental to safe and effective surgical procedures," said MacDonald, adding additional anesthesia clinical assistants allow anesthesiologists to delegate and observe care simultaneously for more than one patient.

The province said these new assistants will double the number of anesthesia clinical assistants working in Manitoba.

DOCTORS MANITOBA 'HOPED TO SEE MORE' FROM TASK FORCE

Dr. Kristjan Thompson, the president of Doctors Manitoba, said he is encouraged to see the four measures the task force has highlighted, and said he is looking forward to reviewing specific details.

"Physicians had hoped to see more progress on the massive backlog this month, but we recognize the task force has very few options available right now because of our understaffed and overwhelmed hospitals," Thompson said in a written statement.

"Physicians' top concern is seeing their patients get the tests and treatment they need as quickly as possible, though we would like to see more capacity built here in Manitoba for local physicians to be able to meet the care needs of their patients close to home."

Bob Moroz, President of Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals (MAHCP), said he was encouraged to see the province address staffing, but is concerned diagnostic imaging technologists, rehab professionals, laboratory technologists and many more Allied Health professions are not being prioritized.

"We need a commitment to train and recruit these essential professionals now," he said in a written statement.

"The refusal to make investments in health care by and for Manitobans, and instead sending patients to another country for services that should be available here, is detrimental to Manitobans and the future of health care in this province."

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