TORONTO -- Ontario’s Ministry of Health announced plans to ramp up its procedural capacity Wednesday amid low COVID-19 case numbers and declining hospitalizations.

The Ministry’s Surgical Recovery Plan will see surgical and procedural output operating at 110 to 115 per cent with an investment of $324 million, according to a release on the plan.

“As the province continues to safely reopen, addressing the impacts of the pandemic on the ability for Ontarians to access health care services, specifically surgeries and procedures, is one of the Ministry of Health’s immediate recovery priorities,” the release said.

The plan will see 67,000 additional surgeries and 135,000 additional diagnostic imaging hours added to the system in an attempt to reduce wait times, improve access to care and support the government’s claims to end hallway healthcare, the Ministry said.

"Throughout this initial phase of surgical recovery planning, we will closely monitor volumes and waitlists and adjust our plans as necessary, ensuring we have a lens on providing equitable access," Matthew Anderson, President and CEO of Ontario Health, told reporters Wednesday.

The plan outlines a timeline that aims to have the provincial backlog cleared by spring 2022, but Health Minister Christine Elliot added that it's difficult to put an exact timeline on it.

"There are some people that are going to be coming forward, they just haven't been diagnosed yet, so we are dealing with the backlogs in people that we have now, but there will be more people coming forward that will need help," she said.

When asked if the plan accounted for a possible rise in COVID-19 cases come fall, Elliott assured that such a possibility had been accounted for.

"This plan has been very carefully thought out," Elliot said. "Relying on the medical experts and people who know how to anticipate these volumes, we are prepared for an increase in the fall. That is why we've taken these steps to put another 300 million [dollars] into the plan to make sure that we can get those increased volumes of surgical procedures and tests."

The plan intends to clear the provincial medical backlog by spring 2022. 

Over the course of the pandemic, a portion of non-COVID-19 related healthcare services had to be paused, including twice when Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health made the decision to pause all non-elective surgeries — once in April 2020 during the pandemic’s first wave and again in April 2021.

Despite the backlog in procedures, the Ministry says that 76 per cent of all patients have now received their delayed surgeries and procedures and that 99 per cent of patients who required urgent care treatment have now received that treatment.

Mr. Anderson told reporters Wednesday that the provincial backlog is currently sitting at around 200,000, although due to a lack of referrals submitted over the past year, this number is not that different from pre-pandemic waitlist levels.

However, as medical procedures get back underway, the Ministry expects that number to grow quickly.

"This investment is the anticipation that we will see more people coming through," Anderson said.​

Data compiled by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) last month provided a glimpse into how long backlogs could take to clear within the province.

According to the OMA, if Ontario’s medical community worked at 120 per cent capacity, it would take them the following time periods to clear the backlog:

  •  MRIs: 10 months
  •  CT scans: 4 months
  •  Cataract surgeries: 21 months
  •  Knee replacements: 22 months
  •  Hip replacements: 14 months
  •  Cardiac surgery: 10 months

All told, over 465,000 surgeries took place in Ontario from April 2020 to March 2021.