Nova Scotia

Surgical wait times profoundly damaging for patients and surgeons, doctor says

Halifax orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Dunbar said he and his colleagues are getting burned out by long waiting lists and dealing with patients who are becoming hopeless.

'Who should go first? How do you prioritize that patient over the other one?'

Dr. Michael Dunbar, a Halifax orthopedic surgeon, said other provinces don't experience the same years-long waits for surgery. (CBC)

Long wait times for orthopedic surgeries in Nova Scotia are forcing doctors to make heartbreaking decisions that can have profound impacts on the lives of patients and their families.

"We've been talking about this wait list issue for years and nothing has changed, in fact it's worse in my opinion," Dr. Michael Dunbar​ said.

"We're getting burned out because not only are we looking after sick patients who are becoming sicker, we're dealing with really profound conversations on a daily basis where patients are crying in front of us because they cannot cope anymore," he told CBC's Maritime Noon.

"They can't look after their families and they're losing their jobs and they're losing their mortgages and it's putting us all under duress."​

'Who should go first?'

Dunbar said patients living with pain are becoming hopeless 

"Who should go first? Someone who's got five years left of life expectancy, served in the war, deserves our care because they're a veteran? Or should we give that care to somebody's who's 45 who's going to lose their mortgage and not going to be able to put their kids through school?" he said.

"These are the decisions we're kind of down to and how do you prioritize that patient over the other one?"

A doctor holds a model of a cementless hip replacement. More and more Nova Scotians need new joints. (The Associated Press)

The Canadian Institute for Health Information released its annual report on wait times in March, which showed Nova Scotians needing hip or knee replacements have the longest average wait time of patients in Canada.

There is little research or literature for guiding on how patients should be prioritized, Dunbar added.

Money invested but wait list is still long

CBC News contacted Health Minister Leo Glavine, however officials from the Department of Health and Wellness said he was unable to comment in his capacity as health minister due to the ongoing election.

Tracy Barron, a spokesperson for the department, said in an email that $18.6 million has been invested over the last four years to reduce wait times for orthopedic procedures.

"The majority are for hip and knee procedures because that is the longest waiting list. Nearly 2,320 hip and knee surgeries have been completed in that time," she said.

In 2016 alone, $8.1 million was invested in orthopedic surgeries in Nova Scotia in an attempt to shorten the wait list.

An auditor general's report on the issue was also done three years ago, but as of February, only two of the seven recommendations from that report have been adopted by the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

With files from Maritime Noon

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