WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government announced on Friday that it will begin increasing the health-care system’s surgical capacity on Monday to help deal with the surgical backlog caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health and Seniors Care Minister Heather Stefanson made the announcement, adding that this move will provide additional access to patients whose non-urgent and elective surgeries were postponed. 

“Patient safety and avoiding negative outcomes for patients whose procedures have been delayed by COVID-19 are top priorities for our government,” Stefanson said in a news release.

“With COVID-related hospitalization numbers stabilizing, we are acting on the advice of our clinical experts to take this opportunity to provide access for patients whose conditions have become more urgent during the surgical slowdown caused by the pandemic.”

Throughout the pandemic, emergency, urgent, and trauma surgeries were still performed, but thousands of non-urgent and elective procedures were postponed because staff had to be redeployed. 

Now, beginning on Monday, about 60 total surgeries will be added across four facilities in Winnipeg – the Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg, Misericordia Health Centre, Pan Am Clinic, and Concordia Hospital. Increases in surgical capacity at rural and northern health-care facilities are expected in the coming weeks.

Surgeries and endoscopies are expected to start as soon as this coming week in Swan River, Dauphin, Neepawa, Minnedosa and Brandon, and planning is ongoing for increased surgeries at facilities in the Northern Health Region and the Southern Health–Santé Sud Health Region.

“This will be a very small increase,” said Lanette Siragusa, Shared Health’s chief nursing officer, on Friday.

“It will be about 60 surgical procedures that will happen across these four sites next week, and surgery programs in Southern Health - Santé Sud as well as Prairie Mountain Health are currently looking at their capacity and whether there’s opportunity for them to also begin increasing the surgical activity.” 

The increased capacity will be prioritized for areas where there is a significant surgical backlog and where waitlists have developed over the pandemic. This includes orthopedic and retinal procedures, as well as vascular, renal, and ear, nose and throat surgeries.

“The procedures that will occur next week are going to be prioritized,” Siragusa said.

“It will be a mixture of orthopedic procedures, including joint replacements. There will be eye surgeries happening, retinas, as well as some long-waiting cataract cases and other procedures that are very important to people’s quality of life.”

The province noted surgical capacity will be reviewed each week, with the consideration of additional increases alongside analysis of COVID-19 case activity, anticipated hospitalizations, and staffing needs. 

Surgeries are being scheduled with the most urgent cases first, with consideration also being given to the length patients have been waiting. 

Patients will be contacted directly to have their surgeries scheduled.

“The small number of staff that we will require to complete these surgical procedures have been notified that they will be returning to their home units from being previously redeployed,” Siragusa said.