Wait times for joint replacement, cataract surgery are climbing: report
Aging population, doctor vacancies behind longer wait times, says medical society
A new report indicates New Brunswickers are waiting longer for joint replacements and cataract surgeries as the number of procedures continues to rise in a province grappling with an aging population.
The Canadian Institute of Health Information reported Wednesday that the number of patients in the province receiving hip replacement, knee replacement and cataract surgeries within the recommended wait times was falling.
"You do see over the past three years, looking back to 2015, that we see the number of surgeries increasing for those procedures, despite increases in the wait times," said Jennifer D'Silva, the institute's manager of emerging issues.
D'Silva said there are a number of contributing factors to longer wait times, a trend that's being experienced nationwide. They include aging populations, changes to disease incidence, staff and bed shortages and care available in the community.
She added that more urgent surgeries could be delaying others where a longer wait is more medically acceptable.
Wait time stats
In 2015, 68 per cent of hip replacement patients received surgery within the recommended six-month wait period. That number fell to 61 per cent in 2017.
For knee replacements, which has the same recommended wait period, 52 per cent of patients received timely care in 2017, compared to 62 per cent two years prior.
Eighty-four per cent of cataract patients received surgical care within the recommended 16 weeks in 2015. That figure dipped to 78 per cent last year.
In each case, the number of procedures performed has risen since 2013. There were 508 hip replacements in 2017, up from 389 four years prior. Knee replacements rose from 682 to 903, and cataract surgeries went up from 5,214 to 5,671.
"It's unfortunate to see the trend around access to surgical care going, but we do have some good sense why that is," said Anthony Knight, CEO of the New Brunswick Medical Society.
Knight said one in four acute care and hospital beds are occupied by seniors awaiting a spot in a nursing home.
"This decreases capacity in our hospitals to perform important surgical procedures that this report highlights," he said.
Knight said unfilled specialized positions also plays a part and places additional pressure on the province's physicians.
New Brunswick has Canada's oldest population with about 20 per cent of residents 65 years and older. Knight said that percentage is only going to grow and put further strain on the health system.
Knight said he was pleased to see provincial and federal investments aimed at reducing wait times and recruiting doctors, saying innovative solutions are needed now to improve the issue.
One solution is developing appropriate care for patients outside hospitals.
The province has shown improvement in some cases.
The numbers for patients receiving timely care for radiation therapy and hip fracture repair has remained stable, D'Silva said. Both meet the provincial benchmark of more than 90 per cent of patients receiving care within the recommend wait period.
She said the Canadian Institute for Health Information is not advocating for a specific request.
"Provinces will need to look at this data and see how they're doing… and balance the need for timely care with the other priorities in their region," she said."