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About 18 per cent of patients in Eastern Ontario needing hip surgery must wait longer than 26 weeks for surgery, according to a report released earlier in June.

Ottawa-area hospitals are trying to encourage patients needing hip or knee surgeries to take the first available doctor in an attempt to reduce wait times.

A provincial report earlier this month found the Champlain Local Health Integration Network — which covers an area along the Ontario-Quebec border, including Ottawa, Cornwall and Deep River — had one of the longest wait times in the province for the surgeries.

About 18 per cent of hip replacement patients and 20 per cent of knee replacement patients in the Champlain region have to wait longer than the 26-week target the province has set for low-priority surgeries. Those numbers from the Ontario Health Quality Council are based on a period from April to June 2009.

Ottawa Hospital orthopedic surgeon Dr. Paul Beaule said some of his patients have been waiting almost a year.

Beale said a program introduced six months ago at the Ottawa, Queensway Carleton and the Montfort Hospitals is helping to reduce wait times.

The program gives patients the option of having their surgery with the first available surgeon, rather the one they consulted.

But the majority of patients are sticking with the surgeon they know.

"A lot of the good outcome on surgical intervention is really based on the trust between patient and surgeon. And when that rapport is established I think most patients have the confidence and they want to keep that I think," said Beale.

Bed shortage an issue: surgeon

"We have to respect that...but that puts more stress on the system," he said.

Ottawa hospitals received money earlier this year to do 300 more hip and knee replacements a year - bringing the total to 1400.

Dr. Geoff Dervin, the head of orthopedic surgery at Ottawa Hospital, said more replacement surgeries could be done if patients needing long-term care could be moved out of hospital beds.

He said demand for beds limits how many surgeries they can perform in a year. "We're now at a saturation point and we have a hard time even meeting that new 1400 number because of bed occupancy," said Dervin.

The wait for long-term care beds, however, is an even larger problem in the region.

The Ontario Health Quality Council report found the average wait time for a bed in a long-term care facility in the region is 237 days, the highest in the province and more than double the provincial average of 105 days.