OTTAWA -- Pandemic pressures on Ontario's medical system has created a backlog of nearly 16 million medical procedures, leaving thousands of residents waiting for elective surgeries.

The Ottawa Hospital says more than 20,000 patients in the region are waiting for surgeries. Procedures such as orthopaedic, eye and other electives, that have been postponed, not cancelled, because of COVID.

At the Queensway Carleton Hospital, surgical teams have been working some nights and weekends to reduce their list of 2,316 people waiting for a procedure.

Arthur Rabinovitch requires an operation to his prostate and has been waiting for nearly a year.

"It is uncomfortable and it is frustrating," says Rabinovitch. "It just gets being pushed back, It’s going to happen in the future, I mean that’s as forward as I can be."

All urgent, emergency and time-sensitive procedures have continued throughout the pandemic.

However, new estimates taken from OHIP data between 2020 and 2021, released by the Ontario Medical Association, found the estimated backlog was the greatest for MRIs (477,301), followed by CT Scans (269,683), cataract surgery (90,136), knee replacements (38,263), hip replacements (16,506) and coronary artery bypass grafts (3,163).

"Three serious waves of infections have created a lengthy backlog of surgeries, diagnostic exams and other health-care procedures," OMA President Dr. Adam Kassam said Wednesday. 

"We have also heard from community-based family doctors and specialists, who are reporting conditions that were left undiagnosed during the pandemic as patients avoided seeking help. Some conditions have grown more serious as non-COVID patients waited longer for treatment.

The pandemic backlog is greater in community settings over hospitals. The OMA says the data suggests that while Ontarians have been actively getting their COVID vaccinations, they have been deferring visits with their family doctors where they could have been screened and treated for chronic conditions.

"I can’t even imagine how bad this is going to be. I’m very concerned," says Dr. Sandra Landolt. The dermatologist has been seeing more patients come in later, with more advanced stages of skin cancer, requiring immediate care, adding that pop-up clinics could be a way to help reduce wait times.

The OMA estimates that working at 120 per cent, clearing the backlog for knee surgeries alone could take as long as two years:

  • 21 months for cataract surgeries
  • 14 months for hip replacements
  • 10 months for cardiac surgery
  • 10 months for MRIs
  • 4 months for CT scans

This follows a recent report by the province’s Financial Accountability Office that showed it will take more than three years and $1.3 billion to clear the backlog of surgeries and diagnostic procedures.

Ontario’s Science Table said in April that almost a quarter million Ontarians were waiting for surgery.

Some Ontario doctors expect the demand for mental health and addictions care will exist and grow for years after the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic has created a significant backlog of services and procedures that will require a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach to address," said OMA CEO Allan O’Dette. "The OMA is committed to working closely with government and other allied health professionals on practical solutions to wait times for diagnostic tests and treatments that Ontarians need."