A Carbonear woman is speaking out about living with severe pain and restricted mobility for months as she waits for surgery — and new information reveals the waiting list for the procedure isn't getting any shorter.
CBC News has learned that the wait-list for hip and knee replacements has remained stuck at more than 1,900 patients since 2022, despite measures to make orthopedic surgery more available.
Tammy Lee Andrews is one of the more than 1,900 people waiting for joint replacement surgery in the province.
'Oh, the pain. You can't even describe the pain. It's a pain that's constant," she said.
Andrews, 50, has lived an active life. She's had three children and has worked on her feet in restaurants for more than three decades, but in her late 40s, severe osteoarthritis began to destroy her hip joints. More than a year ago, she was forced to stop working.
The fear of not being able to have any mobility whatsoever, that part scares me. - Tammy Lee Andrews
"Horrible, horrible. It's all I've known. It's all I've known my whole life is to work and provide for my kids" she said.
Andrews uses a walker and a wheelchair to get around. She needs surgery to replace both her hip joints. Six months ago a surgeon told her her case is urgent, she says, and her health is deteriorating as her wait drags on.
"I wasn't as bad in December as I am now. So the fear of not being able to have any mobility whatsoever, that part scares me," she said. "I think it's horrific."
Surgeons urge action on wait-list
Doctors in St. John's are concerned about the wait-list too.
Last fall, in a letter acquired by CBC News through an access-to-information request, surgeons warned Eastern Health that the wait-list for joint replacement had doubled.
"Beginning in 2018, we saw an acute increase in patient need, and the total wait-list has doubled since that time," says the letter, emailed to the regional health authority's executive by surgeon Dr. Angela Bussey in mid-October.
Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services confirmed that more than 1,900 people were on the wait-list in November.
The province has tried to address the problem by moving orthopedic patients though hospitals more quickly and offering more surgeries in Carbonear and St. Anthony.
But recent numbers from the health authority show those measures haven't cut into the backlog. As of June 1, the wait-list still numbered more than 1,900 people.
The letter says the peak surgery rate occurred in 2018-19, with close to 1,100 joint surgeries completed. But with demand growing as the province's population ages, the letter concludes that doing that many surgeries a year won't stop the wait-list from growing: "Projections show that completing 1,100 cases annually will still result in wait-list growth to 4,500 people by third quarter 2029."
National wait-time benchmark achieved for one-third of patients
The provincial Health Department posts information on wait times for hip replacement surgery online.
The national benchmark for hip replacement is 182 days, about six months. According to the most recent information published on the website, it's a target Eastern Health hit for 35 per cent of patients. The website also says nine out of 10 patients have their surgeries within about 22 months.
Andrews says her six-month wait has been difficult.
"I want my legs back so that I can go back to work again," she said.
But there's reason for hope: she's been told by health officials that her surgery will happen by the fall.