British Columbia

High demand for hip replacements leaves B.C. woman waiting 2 years

Hillary Rockvam wants answers as to why she's been waiting two years to get a date for her hip replacement surgery.

Demand for hip replacements has risen 90 per cent since 2001, leading to long wait times

According to the B.C. Ministry of Health, the median wait time for a hip replacement was 18.4 weeks as of Dec. 31, 2014. (Sunnybrook Health Sciences)

Hillary Rockvam, 57, has been waiting two years to get a date for her hip replacement surgery — and she wants answers.

"If I don't get my surgery soon, I could be on disability, and the government will pay for me to be on disability if I can't work," she told Daybreak Kamloops' Shelley Joyce.

"It would be in their best interest to get people like me in and out and back to being productive members of society." 

Rockvam, of Kamloops, has been living with pain in her hips for four and a half years. She's tried changing her diet and watching her weight, but it hasn't helped.

"I need a hip replacement. It's genetic. My mum's had both her hips replaced, my grandmother had hers done and my younger brother's already had his done."

Frustrated by the long wait lists, Rockvam wrote her local MLA  B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake — and received a response from Lake's assistant telling her the long wait times were up to the doctors.

When reached for an interview, Terry Lake said the responsibility doesn't rest solely with the physician.

"I think we all should be held accountable. It's not a matter of finger pointing, it's a matter of working together," he said.

"We need to better co-ordinate the resources so that surgeons have the available time, that there are anaesthetists available, so that we don't run into this problem."

Different surgeons have different wait times

Lake said Rockvam can talk to her family doctor to see if a local surgeon might have a shorter wait list.

Hillary Rockvam has been waiting 2 years for a hip replacement (Hillary Rockvam)

Dr. Andrew Porter, an orthopaedic surgeon in Kamloops, had similar advice.

"We don't like poaching patients from different people, but the only alternative is to see if she can find someone with a shorter wait list," he said.

Porter said his own wait list is about eight to 10 months, but he's heard "horror stories" of colleagues with lists that are 18 months or longer.

He was clear he could only speak to his own practice, but said the length of a wait list sometimes comes down to how the office is run.

"Once the wait list gets too long there's not a lot of point to putting more people on it."

Long waits have become the norm: surgeon

Dr. Ross Outerbridge, head of orthopaedics at the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops, is familiar with long wait lists.

He said the wait isn't the surgeon's fault, but said Rockvam could get bumped up the list as her condition becomes more urgent.

"I think all of us say to our patients, 'If you are having increasing problems, please let us know.' If there becomes a situation where your condition necessitates that you be bumped up the list, then we need to hear about it," he said.

"With our current health care system I think many people have just accepted the fact that wait lists are long and they just allow it to go on and on, and there's no better advocate for your own health care than you personally."

Rockvam said she's has talked to her surgeon, but it hasn't helped her situation.

"Unfortunately there are just as many people out there who have it as bad or as worse," she said.

Hip replacement surgeries up

According the B.C.'s Ministry of Health, the median wait time for a hip replacement in B.C. is 18.4 weeks as of Dec. 31, 2014.

Lake said Kamloops is currently facing a shortage of anaesthetists, making it harder to schedule surgeries.

"One of the short-term solutions may be to have a general practitioner anaesthetist come into do some of the lower acuity surgeries to try to increase the number of surgeries," he said.

"Longer term, we are working with the Provincial Surgical Executive Committee to look at better co-ordination, better optimization of surgery times."

According to the Ministry of Health, there were 5,202 hip replacements in the 2013-2014 year — up 90 per cent from the number of surgeries in 2001-2002.

To hear the full interviews with Hillary Rockvam, orthopedic surgeons Dr. Andrew Porter and Dr. Ross Outerbridge, and health minister Terry Lake, click the audio labelled: What it feels like to wait for hip surgery.


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