Manitoba

Manitobans facing long delays for hip surgeries see 'no hope on the horizon'

As of last month, the advocacy group Doctors Manitoba estimated a backlog of 130,000 surgeries and diagnostic procedures in Manitoba, up 20,000 from June. And things could get worse before they get better.

Details on provincial task force scant as backlog of surgeries, procedures reaches 130,000

Hazel Lamont, 73, left, has to do much of the housework and other chores due to the growing physical limitations her husband Robert Lamont, 80, is facing. His hip replacement surgery has been pushed back at least twice. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

What Robert Lamont wants most is to be able to do the ordinary things Canadians were forced to go without for long stretches of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it isn't public health restrictions that are stopping him from playing with his six young grandchildren or going shopping in person. It's his hip.

The 80-year-old was first referred to a Manitoba orthopedic surgeon in October 2019 and told it would be about 14 months before his surgery. The date was pushed back again and again as hospital resources were diverted to COVID-19 patients.

His condition is deteriorating daily while he waits. So is his optimism.

"I feel as though I could go into a really deep depression," says Lamont. "I'm fed up with it. There's no hope on the horizon at all."

WATCH | Manitobans facing long delays for hip surgeries:

Manitobans facing long delays for hip surgeries

2 months ago
Duration 3:41
Hip and knee replacements are the number one procedure in Manitoba delayed during the pandemic. Robert Lamont has been waiting for two years for hip surgery, with no end in sight. 3:41

As of last month, the advocacy group Doctors Manitoba estimated a backlog of 130,000 surgeries and diagnostic procedures in Manitoba, up 20,000 from June. And things could get worse before they get better.

Earlier this month, the province announced more surgeries — scheduled for Nov. 19 or later — would be put on hold due to rising case counts and hospitalizations amid the province's fourth wave.

Out of frustration, some Manitobans have paid out of pocket for surgeries elsewhere lately.

Lamont says as a taxpayer he doesn't think that should be necessary.

He's one of the roughly 8,100 people as of last month on the hip and knee replacement waitlist, which is more than any other surgery category, according to Doctors Manitoba.

WATCH | Robert Lamont says he's losing hope after 2 years of waiting:

Robert Lamont has waited 2 years for hip surgery

2 months ago
Duration 1:36
Robert Lamont is dealing with chronic pain, is losing his mobility and relies on opioid painkillers to get through the day as he waits among thousands for his turn on the hip and knee surgery waitlist. 1:36

Lamont is limited in what he can do these days, so all of the housework, shovelling and shopping falls to his 73-year-old wife, Hazel Lamont.

She said her husband's quality of life is declining.

"I just see Robert's pain getting worse and really, no action," she said. "I can't see anything happening for another year for us."

Longer wait, higher risk

Dr. Jihad Abouali said the effects of postponing these surgeries can be serious and long-lasting.

Abouali, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine, said when you wait to replace a bad hip, other parts of the body start to go.

The general condition and mental health of the patient also worsens the longer surgery is delayed, he said.

"They are deconditioning, which makes it a higher-risk operation in the future if you're delaying it one year, two years or longer," he said.

"So not only have you made the patient suffer in pain and disability, it actually makes the surgery higher risk than had it been done at an appropriate time."

Dr. Jihad Abouali is an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine. (Submitted by Dr. Jihad Abouali )

Pre-pandemic, Abouali says Ontario's standard wait was about three months for hip or knee replacements. Due to pandemic disruptions that's now around one year, he said.

In Manitoba, the median wait time for a knee or hip surgery pre-pandemic was just over six months (27 weeks), according to Doctors Manitoba.

The median wait time has now ballooned to nearly eight months (32 weeks), according to the latest provincial data.

These estimates don't include the many months patients often wait to first get into see a surgeon for the initial consultation.

Doctors Manitoba has said COVID-19 isn't the only factor contributing to delays.

The group says existing staffing issues and a lack of contingency planning played a role.

'This is a priority': premier

The province earmarked $50-million earlier this year to chip away at the backlog.

Some of that has already been granted to a previously announced task force devoted to the issue, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said last week.

After a news conference last Monday, Gordon said the decision to postpone procedures was necessary to ensure intensive care capacity for COVID-19 patients, but it wasn't made lightly.

"Right now, this is what we have to do as we see the numbers climbing.… I hope this is for a very, very short time," she said.

Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon says appointees to a provincial surgery backlog task force could be announced this week. (Kevin Nepitabo/CBC)

Appointees to the backlog task force could be announced sometime after Premier Heather Stefanson's throne speech on Tuesday, Gordon said.

Asked about the status of that task force, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson was mum on details last week.

"This is a priority," she said Wednesday. "There is work ... going on right now as we speak."

Jean Jack, 69, said the concept of the task force isn't instilling her with much confidence that she will get the new hip she needs any time soon.

Jack is retired but worked for three decades as a nurse, spending the latter portion in charge of the operation room booking system at a hospital in Brandon, Man.

"There's only x number of dollars from the government; there's only x number of operating rooms that can be used; there's only x number of orthopedic surgeons that do hip and knee replacement," said Jack.

"You can book a thousand patients for next week to be done, but ... the government only allows them to do so many hips and so many knees a year."

Jean Jack and her oldest grandchild at his preschool graduation. The former nurse believes a backlog task force will only be able to accomplish so much due to limited staff and other resources in the province. (Submitted by Jean Jack)

She's had both knees replaced already. A year ago, she found out she needs a hip replaced too. To her knowledge, she isn't officially on a wait-list yet.

Because she can still get around without a cane or walker, she said her surgeon suggested she wouldn't be considered high priority.

That's despite no longer being able to go on long walks, exercise or do certain things around the home. She is also regularly having falls.

Jack lives alone and remains independent, but worries that won't last long.

"I'm just in limbo," she said. "Leave me another couple of years and I will be a high priority, and I won't be able to look after myself."

Over 8-thousand Manitobans are waiting for hip and knee replacements delayed due to the pandemic... and that could mean years of pain. CBC's Bryce Hoye has been looking into it. 6:49

This story was possible in part thanks to Manitobans who filled out CBC's survey on the pronounced effect COVID-19 is having on Manitoba's health-care system. In it, we asked health-care workers, patients and their loved ones to send us their top concerns and questions about care during the pandemic.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, climate, health and more. He has produced episodes for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Erin Brohman

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