In Canadian/metric terms, that’s 11.27 kilometres. It’s a formidable distance, even if you’re only travelling it in a figurative sense. Which is what Premier Brian Pallister proposed last week, defending his government’s health-care strategy in the wake of a new report on priority-procedure wait times whose Manitoba-related numbers are less than flattering.
“It takes seven miles to turn a freighter that’s going full speed in the ocean,” Mr. Pallister said in response to NDP criticism of the province’s performance in the wait-times report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).
“It’s going to take a little while to turn the direction of a health-care system that was being ignored, frankly victimized by under-innovation, by the previous (NDP) government.”
The CIHI report, which focuses on data collected between April 1 and Sept. 30 of last year, shows Manitoba lagging behind national averages in the percentage of patients receiving procedures such as hip and knee replacements, hip-fracture repair, cataract surgery and radiation therapy within prescribed wait times.
The number of hip-replacement patients who had surgery within the recommended six months, which had improved from 68 per cent to 71 per cent between 2013 and 2014, fell to 53 per cent in 2017 (the national average was 71 per cent). Likewise, knee replacements had risen from 58 per cent to 71 per cent in 2013-14, but declined to 43 per cent in 2017 (the national average was 69 per cent).
Manitoba’s performance on cataract surgeries performed within the prescribed time frame of 112 days was just 32 per cent — by far the lowest in the country — compared to 63 per cent in 2014. The national average in 2017 was 71 per cent.
It’s necessary to note Manitoba’s declining performance is reflective of a national trend toward longer wait times; the difference is this province’s performance percentages remain lower than the countrywide numbers even as all Canadian priority-procedure wait times worsen.
There are several factors at play, most notably the continuing shift toward elderly of Canada’s demographic profile. In Manitoba alone, for example, the percentage of the population aged 60 to 75 — prime years for joint-replacement surgery — increased from 12 per cent to 14 per cent between 2007 and 2017, bringing an additional 50,000 Manitobans into the potential wait-time mix.
Also to be considered, however, is the impact of the Pallister government’s aggressive restructuring of health care, which has overlaid the system-altering Peachey-report blueprint with an across-the-board demand for cost savings that has, despite the premier’s pledge to the contrary, clearly had an impact on front-line services.
But these are early days in the transformation of Manitoba’s health-care system, so it’s only fair to offer Mr. Pallister at least some benefit of doubt when he declares he’s going to turn this province’s metaphorical medical ship around. Figures released Tuesday by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority show improvements in emergency-room wait times, so perhaps some progress is being made.
Seven miles remains an imaginary point off in the statistical distance, but by this time next year, the captain of the ship will have had ample time to turn its rudders hard to the starboard bow.
Mark next April on your calendar; if the CIHI numbers haven’t taken a favourable turn — at least in comparison to the national averages — we will know Mr. Pallister’s all-hands-on-deck approach to health-care reform has used that seven miles of turnaround distance to steer himself straight into a figurative iceberg.