News / Halifax

Nova Scotia aims to cut wait times for knee, hip replacements to six months

In this Wednesday, March 5, 2014 file photo, a doctor holds a model of a tri-compartmental total knee replacement in Chicago.

M. Spencer Green/The Associated Press

In this Wednesday, March 5, 2014 file photo, a doctor holds a model of a tri-compartmental total knee replacement in Chicago.

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is moving to significantly cut Canada's worst wait times for hip and knee replacements, as it strives to meet the national standard over the next four years — or possibly earlier.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said Friday that a $6.4 million commitment would allow an additional 500 people to get surgeries this year.

The current wait times: Around 620 days for hip replacements, and about 737 for knees.

"Money alone will not solve this challenge," said Delorey. "We are also changing how we do things ... making better use of our operating rooms and freeing up more hours for surgery."

Delorey said the funding would be used to hire four surgeons and four anaesthetists, purchase new equipment and hire support staff. It would also be used for a centralized booking process.

Dr. Eric Howatt, senior medical director of perioperative services for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said surgeons will also work longer hours and weekends to help clear the backlog.

Howatt, co-chair of the provincial orthopedic working group, said he believes the push will enable the province to reach the six-month national standard on an even more ambitious timeline.

"With what has been announced and with the new proposals, if I answer that question truthfully I will say April 2020. That is what we built into the request (to government) — we just have to achieve it."

Delorey said the funding was for the current fiscal year that ends in April and that additional money could be spent over time.

A March report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information said national wait times for joint replacement remained relatively unchanged last year, with 75 per cent of patients receiving hip or knee replacement surgery within the 182-day benchmark. Since 2012, the number of hip replacements rose 22 per cent, while knee replacements went up 18 per cent.

Howatt said to get Nova Scotia to the national standard, the wait list would have to be cut in half — from 3,600 patients to about 1,800.

"So in the short term you are going to see a steady ramp-up in terms of the numbers that are done and the list will start to shorten," Howatt said. "And in the medium term we will hopefully slay this dragon of the people who are waiting greater than six months."

The province currently has 22 hip and knee specialists who do about 3,600 surgeries a year, Howatt said — not enough to meet the surgical reduction goal. He said that's why the new hires are needed and he expressed confidence recruitment wouldn't be a problem.

"The roadblock is not the availability of surgeons which is not necessarily the case in other branches of medicine, but it was more about getting the infrastructure in place to allow us to hire them."

A health official said the hiring process would begin within the next month.

Orthopedic surgeries are done at five hospitals across the province, including the Dartmouth General Hospital, Cape Breton Regional Hospital, the Halifax Infirmary, the Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, and the Valley Regional Hospital in Kentville.

Pediatric surgeries are performed at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

Delorey said the Liberal government has funded an additional 2,200 orthopedic surgeries since taking power in 2013.

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