New Brunswick

Medical society says surgery wait times 'devastating' for patients

The president of the New Brunswick Medical Society, Dr. John Whelan, says with the highest wait times in the country for some surgeries it is time to attract more specialists.

Dr. John Whelan wants Gallant government to start hiring specialists as wait times 'skyrocket'

(Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

New Brunswick needs to start attracting more specialists as the province continues to deal with the highest wait times in the country, according to the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.

A recent report from the Fraser Institute found New Brunswick had the longest waits for cataract removal, hip replacements and prostate removal.

Dr. John Whelen says it can take a year for patients to get in to see an orthopedic surgeon and another year for them to have surgery.

We simply don't have the specialists we need to treat patients, and these skyrocketing wait times are the result.- Dr. John Whelan

"So that's devastating for those patients," Whelan said in an interview on Information Morning Moncton on Monday.

"Most of those are older patients so we're taking almost a year or two out of their lives where they may only have 10 years to live … in pain … it's real and it has a devastating effect on some of our seniors."

Whelan says with one of the oldest populations in the country, there is a greater need for these surgeries in New Brunswick at the same time that aging specialists are finding it difficult to keep up.

"We have no flex in the system for specialty — over the last couple years you've heard a lot about general practitioners... this is the other side of it," Whelan said.

"We simply don't have the specialists we need to treat patients, and these skyrocketing wait times are the result."

Whelan says the solution is to get patients who should be in nursing homes out of hospital beds, and to make specialists feel welcome and wanted in New Brunswick. 

"The specialty group is in dire need of a lot of people but we haven't been able to recruit because of billing numbers."

​CBC News contacted health minister Victor Boudreau for a response to the long wait times in the province but he was unavailable to comment.

Heart Centre also struggling

Dr. Marc Pelletier, chief of cardiovascular surgery at the New Brunswick Heart Centre in Saint John, says wait times for his patients are also too long.

"In the last two years specifically we've reached our highest level where people on average are waiting four to six months for heart surgery," he said in an interview on Information Morning Saint John.

Pelletier says the recommended wait time for non-urgent heart patients is 42 days.

So for us we feel that the solution is to be able to do more surgeries and that's where we have tried to engage Horizon to try to make steps in the right direction to make that happen.- Dr. Marc Pelletier

"That's where we've really struggled as a heart centre is getting those people into hospital and their surgery done within that month, month-and-a-half and that's where a lot of them now are waiting in excess of four, five, six months or more."

Pelletier says the current wait list at the New Brunswick heart centre is the longest in Canada at 130 patients.

He says part of the reason is that the centre is receiving more patients from Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The aging population of New Brunswick also means there is more diabetes, obesity and hypertension and that chronic disease leads to more incidences of heart disease. 

"So for us we feel that the solution is to be able to do more surgeries and that's where we have tried to engage Horizon to try to make steps in the right direction to make that happen," Pelletier said.

He says the heart centre needs another surgeon and support staff to increase the number of surgeries by about 120 per year at a cost of between $2 million and $3 million.

"Hopefully we'll make some progress," he said.

Pelletier says talks are continuing with the provincial government and with Horizon Health but he says those conversations aren't easy.

"The response that I would love to have from Horizon would be to say, 'Great, let's sit down together and let's figure out how we can solve this rather quickly,'" Pelletier said.

"That would be my only disappointment is that has not happened as quickly as I would like it to."

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