NS Votes 2013

Reality check: Are Liberal claims on wait times accurate?

The province's three major political parties are promising to reduce the long waits facing Nova Scotians who need knee and hip replacements. But are the wait times as bad as politicians claim?

Checking the campaign claims against the facts

Checking the campaign claims against the facts. 2:16

The province's three major political parties are promising to reduce the long waits facing Nova Scotians who need knee and hip replacements. But are the wait times as bad as politicians claim?

Here's what Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said last week during a debate on CBC News:

"The national average for orthopedic surgery is six months. In Nova Scotia it's 20 months. That's unacceptable."

And the Liberal platform also addresses the issue:

"According to the most recent data, nine out of 10 patients wait 20 months for a knee replacement and 17 months for a hip replacement."

The reality is, most patients aren't waiting anywhere near that long.

First, a primer on how health agencies track these numbers. They use three measurements:

  • They look at how long it takes for half the patients to get their surgeries.
  • They look at the average wait time.
  • They look at how long it takes for nine out of 10 patients to get their surgeries.

The last measurement doesn't mean 90 per cent of patients wait that long for surgery. It represents the maximum time the unlucky few may have to wait.

For knee replacements, 50 per cent of patients get their surgeries within 7½ months. The average wait time is just over nine months. The longest wait is almost 20 months, but most patients get their surgeries long before that.

It's the same story for hip replacements. For those, 50 per cent have their surgeries in just under five months. The average wait is seven months and the longest wait for the unlucky few is almost 16 months. Again, few wait that long.

The Liberals also claim those wait times are the worst in the country. 

If you look at that 50 per cent benchmark — the wait time for five out of ten patients — Nova Scotia does have the longest wait times in Canada for knee surgery and the fourth longest wait times for hip replacements.

Any improvement?

So has there been any improvement in the wait times for those two surgeries since the New Democratic Party took power in 2009?

For hip replacements, the province is making progress.

In 2008 — before the New Democratic Party formed government — half the patients waited more than 200 days for hip replacement surgery. That's now down to 143 days. 

It's a different story for knee replacement surgery. In 2008, half the patients waited about 213 days. That's now up to 226 days.

All these numbers are provincial averages. Actual wait times vary from hospital to hospital.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.