A surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown is warning that some surgery wait times are longer than usual — and are set to get even longer — as the province's health-care system struggles to recover from the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Scott Wotherspoon, an orthopedic surgeon and the previous chief of surgery at the QEH, said urgent and emergency surgeries are going ahead, but Islanders waiting for restorative surgeries such as joint replacement, knee replacements and cataract surgery, could be waiting for more than a year.
"It's overwhelming to think about what lies ahead over the next 12 to 18 months," Wotherspoon said. "We show up to work and we try to do the best we can."
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) recommends surgeries such as hip and knee replacements and cataract surgery be done within a six-month window.
Wotherspoon said that some provinces, including P.E.I., struggled to hit those benchmarks before the pandemic — and the situation has gotten worse.
"Our benchmarks have steadily gotten worse. Right now our wait times are over a year for cataract surgery, for total joint replacement surgery," he said.
Pandemic-related health-care stress
He said the hospital is now dealing with additional pandemic-related challenges, which are set to lengthen delays.
Surgeries can be delayed when members of the surgical team contract COVID-19, or when the patient tests positive.
Health-care worker shortages and surgeon burnout also affect wait times, Wotherspoon said.
He said it's challenging for physicians to tell patients that they'll need to wait months for the surgery they need, especially because often, those patients have waited to see the doctor in the first place.
"It's not a good feeling," he said. "Unfortunately we don't have much more that we can do. We're trying to do as much as we can, trying to be as efficient as we can, but we're frankly always behind the eight ball."
Not just a P.E.I. problem
Recent data from CIHI shows that all provinces are dealing with longer-than-average delays for restorative or elective surgeries.
In May, CIHI published a study saying the situation has improved since 2020, but the average wait time across the country is still longer than it was pre-pandemic.
Wotherspoon said that P.E.I. is working hard to recruit more health-care workers, but he is aware that the population is aging, and the demand for joint and knee replacements is set to rise in the next few years.
"We know that with the baby boomers, that cohort ages, our volumes are going to continue to go up," he said.
He asks people to be as patient as possible when dealing with the health-care system.
"I think it's maintaining a good positive outlook, that we are trying to do the best we can," he said.
"We're trying to improve on our resources, we are desperately trying to recruit and retain as many people as we can to help bolster the system."