'Bold approach' promised to cut hip and knee replacement wait times

A surgeon who helped come up with a 'bold approach' to lowering hip and knee surgery wait times is predicting Nova Scotia will meet the national average of a six-month wait by April 2020.

$6.4M budget boost will mean 500 more surgeries performed this fiscal year alone

Kentville surgeon Dr. Eric Howatt says he expects the wait time for hip and knee replacements to fall to six months by April 2020. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

A Kentville surgeon who helped come up with a plan to reduce hip and knee replacement wait times is predicting Nova Scotia will hit the national average of a six-month wait by the spring of 2020. That's well before the goal suggested by the Health Minister Randy Delorey, who said it might be accomplished within four years.

Dr. Eric Howatt made the bold prediction at a news conference designed to highlight the fact the governing Liberals are investing $6.4 million more in this year's budget for hip and knee replacements. That will allow for 500 more surgeries by the end of the fiscal year.

When asked when the province might hit the national average for hip and knee surgery wait times, Howatt said, "With what has been announced and with the new proposals that are in front of you, if I answer that question truthfully I will say April 2020."

The current wait in Nova Scotia for a new knee is more than two years. Those waiting for a hip replacement are now waiting more than 18 months.

The extra money this year will go to hire four more surgeons, four additional anesthesiologists as well as additional support staff needed to get patients ready for surgery and back on their feet afterward.

A team effort

Howatt said it would take a team effort to co-ordinate the extra operating room time, as well care before and after the surgery.

"These surgeries are two- to three-hour operations with a lot of support required in terms of hospital care, post-hospital care, physiotherapists, nurses, a whole army of a team that is required to support these," he said.

Hip and knee operations are done at the following hospitals:

  • Dartmouth General Hospital.
  • Cape Breton Regional Hospital.
  • Halifax Infirmary.
  • Aberdeen Regional Hospital.
  • Valley Regional Hospital.
  • IWK Health Centre.

Howatt said those who staff the operating rooms will likely be working extra to provide the time needed to whittle down the list of those now awaiting surgery.

"What's going to happen is every orthopedic centre is going to examine how they can best deal with this increased workload in terms of all the things that are needed to go around it," he said. "In some centres they may have capacity to open new ORs. In other centres they may have to lengthen the days. In other centres they may have to work weekends.

"The surgeons and the staff are committed and engaged in making this happen."

There are currently 3,600 joint replacements done every year. Coincidentally, there are now 3,600 people on the waiting list for the 22 surgeons who do hip and knee replacements.