Moncton Hospital has made progress cutting long wait times for knee and hip replacements, an orthopedic surgeon says.

In the past year, wait times have dropped to about 18 months from 24, said Dr. Michael Forsythe.

He said the drop was the result of extended operating room hours and removing patients from the wait list for various reasons, including medical problems.

But Forsythe said there's still a long way to go to reach the national benchmark of six months.

"Every year at our hospital we have approximately 600 new cases … on top of the 600 cases that are backlogged from years gone by," said Forsythe. "Those new cases are the ones that are difficult to get through when you're dealing with a backlog."

Doctors in Moncton hope additional funding from the province will help get people needing hip and knee replacements into operating rooms even sooner.

Whittling the list down

This week, the province announced it would spend $3 million to help reduce waits for orthopedic surgery at the Moncton Hospital and Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre.

"It will certainly help those patients that have been waiting more than a year at both hospitals," said Forsythe.

"Ultimately, it would be nice to open up a dedicated operating room with dedicated beds to deal strictly with our long-waiting hip and knee replacement patients and co-ordinate those in a fashion that surgeries aren't being cancelled because of a lack of OR time or a lack of beds."  

'You're waiting from the time of your consultation, arriving in our office, to seeing us,  and then the surgical waiting time is added on top of that.' - Dr. Michael Forsythe, orthopedic surgeon

Although it's rare, he said, surgeries have been cancelled because of a lack of beds and other resources at the Moncton Hospital.

A news release from the province said referrals for hip and knee replacements have been increasing, largely because of an aging population.

The new funding will be used to increase surgical capacity at the two Moncton hospitals and to develop a more co-ordinated approach to consultations with specialists.

Forsythe said the goal is to reduce wait times and improve access to care. 

"You're waiting from the time of your consultation, arriving in our office, to seeing us, and then the surgical waiting time is added on top of that," he said.

Upsetting for patients

He said questions about wait times are among the first to be asked after a patient is examined. Often, patients leave their examinations feeling distraught over having to wait more than a year for relief.

He said hip and knee arthritis can affect mobility and be physically painful. Performing surgeries in a timely fashion would improve their quality of life while relieving chronic pain. 

Forsythe applauded local people such as Vivian LeBlanc, a knee replacement surgery patient who wrote a letter to the province about her frustration over a long wait for surgery.

"I think this response from the government is directly related to … concerns over the waiting times that we're experiencing here in the Moncton area."