Nfld. & Labrador

More people waiting longer for cataract surgery, joint replacements

The report says 87 per cent of people needing cataract surgery in Newfoundland and Labrador had it within the recommended wait time, compared with 96 per cent in 2015.

Report by Canadian Institute of Health Information compares 2017 data to 2015

Cataract surgery has been a hot topic in Newfoundland and Labrador, with the health minister investigating billing outside MCP. (CBC)

More people across the country, including in Newfoundland and Labrador, waited longer than the recommended time for cataract surgery and hip and knee replacements, according to a report released Thursday.

Patients needing cataracts removed are supposed to have the surgery within 16 weeks, according to Canadian benchmarks.

But the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) says in this province, 87 per cent had their eye surgery within that wait time, down from 96 per cent in 2015.

Cataract surgery has been a hot topic in Newfoundland and Labrador, with the health minister launching an investigation into reports that some patients paid up to $4,000 for a procedure normally covered by the Medical Care Commission.

A proposed private eye centre in Corner Brook that would do surgeries outside a hospital setting and bill through MCP was initially rejected, but government later agreed to take another look.

Eye surgery isn't the only area where wait lists are growing.

People needing knee replacements are supposed to have the procedure within six months.  But the CIHI said 66 per cent of patients in this province had their surgery within that timeframe, compared with 87 per cent in 2015.

Hip replacements were done within six months for 84 per cent of people on the wait list, compared with 94 per cent three years ago.

But in at least two of those areas, the province is ahead of the national trend, said Jennifer D'Silva, the CIHI's manager of emerging issues.

"Compared to the rest of the country, the proportion of patients in Newfoundland being treated within these benchmarks or recommended time frames is higher than it is in the rest of the country for hip replacement and for cataract surgery," she said.

Aging population, growing demand

Canada's aging population may mean a higher demand for those surgeries, according to the CIHI, and improvements in surgical procedures and devices may have expanded the number of people who qualify.

According to D'Silva, the number of joint replacement surgeries has also increased over the past few years, which is one reason why wait times may be growing.

The number of surgeons and the availability of resources such as operating rooms and post-operative beds can also affect wait times, the CIHI said.

Canadian benchmarks say patients needing hip replacement should wait no longer than six months. (CBC)

The provinces agreed in 2004 to reduce wait times in five priority areas —  cancer treatment, cardiac car e, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration.

Targets for medically acceptable wait times were set in 2005 and the CIHI was mandated to collect data monitor progress in meeting the benchmarks.

There were improvements in some areas.

According to CIHI, 100 per cent of patients in Newfoundland and Labrador who had radiation therapy for cancer in 2017 received it within the recommended wait time of 28 days.

Slightly more people — 87 per cent compared with 85 per cent — who needed surgery for a broken hip, had it done within the recommended 48 hours.

According to D'Silva, surgeries for urgent care have generally been completed efficiently.

"For the more timely procedures, the more urgent procedures, we don't see generally a decrease in their wait times over time," she said.