Nursing Matters

Surgical Backlog Taskforce

March 14, 2023

The Provincial Government has assembled a Taskforce to look at the surgical backlog in Newfoundland and Labrador and provide recommendations on how we improve wait times.

Niki Parsons, Region 8 Representative on the RNU Board, and Yvette Coffey, RNU President, are members of the Surgical Backlog Taskforce, which was established in June 2022. Other task force members include:

  • Rod Martin – Former Chief of Surgery, Eastern Health (Co-Chair);
  • Andrée Robichaud – Chief Executive Officer, Central Health (Co-Chair);
  • Vanessa Mercer-Oldford – Assistant Deputy Minister, Regional Services, Department of Health and Community Services;
  • Debbie Walsh – Vice President of Clinical Services and Chief Nurse, Eastern Health;
  • Greg Browne – Chief of Staff, Eastern Health;
  • Cherry Pike – Clinical Chief of Children and Women’s Health, Eastern Health;
  • Mark Spurrell – Chief of Surgery, Central Health;
  • Scott Mackenzie – Chief of Surgery, Western Health;
  • Antoinette Cabot – Vice President of Clinical Services, Labrador Grenfell Health;
  • Will Moores – Orthopedic Surgery, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association;
  • Matthew Andrews – Urology, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association;
  • Chris Cox – General Surgery, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association; and
  • Lesley Johnston – Anesthesiology, Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association.

Last fall, RNU asked Branch Presidents to provide feedback and solutions for consideration by the Surgical Backlog Taskforce. Through this feedback, as well as the experience and insight from taskforce members, it quickly became apparent that the biggest challenge to addressing the surgery backlog is the lack of human resources, especially nursing personnel.


Health human resource shortages are the reason health care systems are in crisis across our province and country. It’s the reason why seniors wait months on end for long term care beds. Why emergency departments are closed or have extremely long wait times. Why hundreds and thousands of us don’t have access to a primary health care provider. It’s also why it’s difficult to address the backlog of surgeries and procedures.

Niki, Yvette and The Surgical Backlog Taskforce have been meeting bi-weekly, sometimes weekly, and are working on short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions. While a final report and recommendations have yet to be finalized, several solutions have already been introduced.

This includes the introduction of a traveling surgery program.  St. Anthony has been identified as a site to assist with surgical backlog. The first surgeries were performed in January under the travelling orthopaedic program. This measure was announced last fall to address wait times for hip and knee joint replacement surgeries in NL, and this initiative has the potential to accommodate approximately 140 surgeries at this site annually.

Reducing waitlists is a priority, and work is also underway to utilize additional operating room capacity at Carbonear General Hospital for inpatient joint replacement surgeries. The Provincial Government has also implemented other measures to address the surgical backlog by partnering with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute to address the waitlist for cardiac surgery, increasing regional caps on cataract surgeries in non-hospital facilities, and hip and knee joint replacement surgeries on an outpatient basis for suitable candidates.

RNU continues to speak out against privatization, and Yvette has advocated against this at Surgical Backlog Taskforce meetings. Measures being taken by the Ontario Ford government to introduce publicly-funded private clinics to address surgical backlogs are not the answer. In January, Premier Furey said that they are not looking at going the route Doug Ford is taking and went on record saying, “Privatization of health care is never something that I’ve been contemplating.”

Yvette and Niki continue to strongly advocate for an emphasis on recruitment and retention of RNs, NPs and other providers as the Surgical Backlog Taskforce completes its work. An update on the taskforce work will be shared with members on myRNU.