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Dr. Don Lalonde, a Saint John plastic surgeon, said doctors have been lobbying for the ability to perform specific surgeries in their offices for more than a year. ((CBC))

New Brunswick doctors will now have the opportunity to perform two common surgeries in their offices as a way to wrestle down the province's long wait times.

The Department of Health is now allowing doctors to perform carpal tunnel and skin cancer reconstructive surgeries in their offices.

Doctors will now be allowed to perform the two common surgeries in their offices under local anesthetic, instead of waiting for time in a hospital operating room.

Dr. Don Lalonde, a Saint John plastic surgeon, said doctors have been lobbying for the change for more than a year.

"We were the second last province in Canada to be allowed to do that. Nova Scotia is the only one now where this is not allowed apparently," Lalonde said.

"So it is a step forward, the government is moving forward."

Lalonde said the new rules should free up operating rooms and clinics for other procedures and that should reduce wait times. 

Patients waiting for the two common surgeries are often stuck in the queue for months waiting for time in an operating room to open up.

Carpal tunnel patients wait about eight months for a surgery and skin cancer reconstructive surgery patients wait about three months, according to Lalonde.

The Saint John physician said the recent change in provincial policy, allowing him to do those procedures in his office, under local anesthetic, should help.

"Now if I would like to, I can do cases on Saturdays and Sundays to catch up," he said.

Lalonde said this new policy will also cut costs with lower overhead.

Just last month, Lalonde stepped down as co-chair of the Saint John Regional Hospital's operating room utilization committee over what he called a "desperate" need for more operating room time and support personnel.

Policy review

That same day, the Department of Health sent a letter to doctors about the new rules.

Mary Moszynski, a Department of Health spokeswoman, said the list of surgeries that can be performed in their offices is reviewed periodically.

The physicians requested these two procedures be added to the list of surgeries that can be performed in their offices in the fall of 2009, according to the health official.

"These procedures are safe to perform in physician's suites and do not require general anesthesia," Moszynski said.

Dr. Robert Rae, the president of the Saint John Medical Society, said the policy change is welcome.

"The big thing is that ... that frees up OR time ... for those things that absolutely have to be done within the operating room," Rae said.

But Rae said he expects any benefits will be short-lived with an anticipated one per cent budget cut next year.

He said hospitals can't control the number of emergency surgeries, only the elective ones and he predicts wait times for those will continue to grow.