CALGARY -- Health Minister Tyler Shandro says Alberta's plan to increase the number of surgeries conducted in the province has greatly reduced the number of patients awaiting procedures.

According to the province, the decision to place surgeries on hold from March 18 through May 14 — a move made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — led to a backlog of nearly 25,000 procedures.

Shandro says the vast majority of the backlog in procedures has been cleared since surgeries resumed in mid-May,  .

"Reducing the backlog by 88 per cent is a good first step, but we need to push even harder in the months to come," he said in a statement released Friday morning.

During the early days of the pandemic, Alberta Health Services predicted it would take approximately two years to catch up.

The ministry has developed a plan to increase surgical activity volume to 150 per cent to ensure all scheduled surgeries are completed within Alberta’s "clinically acceptable times."

"It seems simple — and that’s what the system is supposed to do — but it’s never been done in Alberta or in any other province," Shandro said during Friday's announcement. 

The minister called reducing wait times his "top priority" in office and work has already begun to make that goal a reality. 

"By end of this year, AHS will be providing as many surgeries as they did each month prior to the pandemic."

The plan includes the expansion of existing chartered surgical facilities, as well as the creation of new non-hospital facilities in rural and urban areas. 

"“That will include more lower-risk surgeries in rural hospitals across the province, and existing and new chartered surgical facilities under contract with AHS."

It’s unclear just how many new facilities will be added, but a government spokesperson tells CTV News early interest appears to be high. 

Some of those surgical facilities will be added to existing buildings, while others will be completely new builds.

It’s expected six new facilities will be opened on First Nations in Alberta. 

An Indigenous stream grant has been created to help fund proposals in those communities.