Patients waiting over 16 months for knee, hip replacement surgeries

·3 min read

With already long wait times for knee and hip replacements in New Brunswick, the wait has increased another three months from what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic said Michael Forsythe, an orthopedic surgeon at the Moncton Hospital.

Elective surgeries were cancelled for two months, creating a backlog, and there are no extra resources to help clear it up.

"So it's basically just one one crisis has compounded another crisis that pre-existed for many years," Forsythe said.

Prior to COVID-19 and the cancellation of the elective surgeries, the average wait time for a knee or hip replacements in this province was 450 days.

"That would be roughly, the average would be about a year and a half wait for a knee or a hip arthroplasty prior to the pandemic.

"Now it's an extra 90 days."

Forsythe said the province hasn't made any progress with the wait-list. Instead, it has become a lot worse since the first wave of the pandemic, something he finds troubling and discouraging.

Patients upset

With so much focus on on dealing with the pandemic, which Forsythe said is justified, he said there's very little foresight on how hospitals and surgeons are going to deal with this obvious problem.

The orthopedic surgeon said in one day in his office, he sees patients who are now living their lives after having successful replacement surgeries, and patients whose pain is getting worse as they wait for surgery.

Forsythe said he had to tell one patient the upsetting news that her December surgery was being pushed into 2021 as he tried to catch up on the backlog.

He said it's discouraging to have to tell his patients this news.

"As orthopedic surgeons, we do elective surgery and I would call it more restorative surgery than elective surgery, to give them their life back. This is a game changer for these patients."

Forsythe said the long wait times are a province wide issue that need to be dealt with both short term and long term.

Federal funding could help

The Canadian Medical Association has asked for over $1 billion from the federal government to help deal with the backlog of elective surgeries across Canada.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. This is to help with the short term issues we've had from only the first wave of the pandemic, irregardless of any second wave or any further shutdowns, which we've already had a few in New Brunswick."

For Forsythe, the short term solution is to increase resources including operating room time and hospital beds. This may mean extending the OR day and operating on Saturdays for a few months to deal with the backlog.

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Long term, Forsythe said each hospital has to come up with a plan that works for it. That might include doing same day operations on healthy patients so beds wouldn't be tied up. Or doing surgeries at other hospitals, to avoid competing with other surgical services for operating rooms.

And he said that has to be done with provincial funding that has been earmarked to help ease the long wait list, not the federal funding aimed at the backlog caused by COVID.

"This isn't a Band–Aid effect. The money needs to continue to flow and we need to increase the number of arthroplasties which we're doing year over year because the demand is doing nothing but going up."

Forsythe said if productivity is not going to increase, then the wait lists will continue to grow.