N.S. wait times for joint replacements still longest

Nova Scotians have the longest wait in the country for hip and knee surgeries, seven years after the federal government set aside billions of dollars to improve wait times.

Nova Scotians have the longest wait in the country for hip and knee surgeries, seven years after the federal government set aside billions of dollars to improve wait times.

A six-month wait is the federal government's benchmark for non-urgent hip and knee replacements. About 80 per cent of Canadians get their procedures within the allotted time, while in Nova Scotia, only half the patients get hip and knee surgery within six months.

Dr. David Amirault, chief of orthopedic surgery at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, said the rest of the patients wait much longer.

Reporting times in priority areas

Percentage of patients who receive care within the benchmark of 182 days.

  Hip replacement Knee replacement
 P.E.I. 84% 69%
 Nova Scotia 51% 47%
 New Brunswick 76% 63%
 Quebec 88% 85%
 Ontario 93% 90%
 Manitoba 62% 58%
 Saskatchewan 63% 48%
 Alberta 81% 71%
 B.C. 85% 77%

Source: Canadian Institute for Health Information, Wait Time Alliance Report Card, 2010

"There's not enough operating rooms, there's not enough surgeons doing the procedures, there's not enough money to support those procedures," Amirault told CBC News.

In 2004, the federal government announced a $5.5-billion fund designed to reduce waiting times in the country's hospitals for five designated procedures: hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, radiation oncology, cardiovascular surgery and diagnostic imaging, such as MRIs.

The funding, slated to last 10 years, is set to expire in 2013-2014.

While many provinces have shown an improvement in wait times for hip and knee surgeries, Nova Scotia's progress has been slow.

At the same time, the number of people receiving hip and knee replacements in Nova Scotia has increased and Amirault said the demand from an aging population means wait times probably won't come down unless the province makes some changes.

"I think it requires some strategies around allocating resources — what types of surgery should be done where," said Amirault.

He said one reason hip and knee surgeries get cancelled so often in Halifax is because the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre is also where all patients with serious fractures and emergencies arrive.