BY BILL PHILLIPS
If you’re waiting for a new hip or a new knee in northern B.C., get in line. And it’s a long one.
As of March 31, 2017 at the University Hospital of Northern B.C., approximately 38 per cent of people waiting for hip replacement surgery, and 51 per cent of people waiting for knee surgery, waited more than 26 weeks. The Canadian standard for wait times is that 90 per cent of patients should be able to get a hip or knee surgery in less than 26 weeks.
The good news is wait times in northern B.C. are about to change, says Health Minister Adrian Dix, for the better.
“What we need to do here, in everything we do, is ensure the quality of care is just not better, but faster in the North,” Dix said to a gathering of about 75 people at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. Friday morning. “This is critical to the economic life of communities because if you don’t have 21st Century health care, then you don’t have 21st Century growth.”
Three weeks ago the province announced its strategy to increase the number of hip and knee surgeries increased by 34 per cent, which included the bolstering of five hip and knee replacement programs throughout the province. One of those programs will be at UHNBC in Prince George.
Under the program, the number of hip and knee replacement surgeries provided at UHNBC is expected to increase this year by 12 per cent, for approximately 975 surgeries in 2018-19. In the North, 63 per cent of all hip and knee surgeries are performed at UHNBC. In 2016-17, 527 scheduled hip and knee surgeries were performed at the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia. Under the provincial surgical strategy, which is being supported with ongoing targeted funding of $75 million starting in 2018-19, and increasing to $100 million in 2019-20, approximately 9,400 more publicly funded surgeries will be completed by the end of March 2019. Dix said the funding is not one-time funding, but rather a permanent change in funding for the program.
Two weeks ago Dix announced that funding was in place for a 70 per cent increase in the number of magnetic resonance imaging tests in the Northern Health area, from 7,362 last year, to 13,000 next year. Those tests, of course, will improve diagnostic time for hip and knee problems.
“The program also improves continuity of care for patients by coordinating all the services a patient needs to prepare for, undergo, and recover from surgery,” said Dix.
He added plan entails new equipment in some Northern Health locations and some increases in staffing, which has already been accounted for.
“What we did in the case of this project was we increased the numbers in the last number of months in the previous fiscal year,” he said. “So when we say we can do the increase, we know it because we already set the pattern.”
He said rather than make “flashy announcements” last fall, the ministry wanted to “show before we told” about increased capacity for surgeries and diagnostic testing.
“There are real challenges,” he said. “One of the challenges we face all over the north, is staffing challenges, health human resources challenges. Those are things we need to address in the mid- to long-term. We have to increase our capacity to train people in the North.”
It’s an issue that has been identified by Northern Health.
“We believe we have proven we can meet these surgical targets,” said Dix.
Three other hospitals – in Dawson Creek, Kitimat and Prince Rupert – support a smaller caseload of hip and knee surgeries. Improvements are underway to bolster those services as well.
Building on the innovations of the former Richmond Hip and Knee Reconstruction Project, the improvements being made to the program at UHNBC are designed to support increased surgical volumes, reduce wait times and improve continuity of care for patients by co-ordinating all the services a patient requires to prepare for, undergo and recover from surgery. The program at UHNBC includes:
- dedicated operating room time;
- pre- and post-surgical support;
- centralized intake;
- standardized assessment;
- access to the first-available surgeon; and
- ongoing program evaluation.
“I have always been an active person, and it was challenging to be sidelined by hip pain that prevented me from doing the things that I love,” said Andrew Watkinson, who underwent hip replacement surgery at UHNBC in February 2017. “My recovery was complete at around 12 weeks, defined by when I started running again, thanks to the excellent care I received leading up to, through, and following my surgery. I’ll have another chance to experience the improvements to the hip replacement program when I have my other hip replaced next month.”
UHNBC hip replacements
During the 2017-18 fiscal year, as of Feb. 28, 2018, 266 hip replacements were provided.
- Average age of hip replacement recipients is 67 years. (Patients’ ages ranged from 26 to 95 years.)
- Number of patients waiting, as of Feb. 28, 2018, was 154.
UHNBC knee replacements:
During the 2017-18 fiscal year, as of Feb. 28, 2018, there were 511 knee replacements.
- Average age of knee replacement recipients is 66 years. (Patients’ ages ranged from 26 to 95 years).
- Number of patients waiting, as of Feb. 28, 2018, is 457.
The number of patients waiting is measured from the time a surgeon communicates a patient’s surgical needs to a hospital’s booking office.