Residents and Nova Scotia’s opposition parties are expressing concern over the number of days people are waiting for knee and hip surgeries, following numbers released by the province’s auditor general.
People in the province needing a hip replacement can expect to wait 750 days while a knee replacement can take 800 days, a number far above the national average of 182 days, according to Michael Pickup.
For Reg Feltmate, that number isn’t a surprise, as he finally got his knee replacement after three years on a waiting list.
“You can’t get in, you can’t,” said Feltmate from his Lower Sackville, N.S. home.
While waiting to have his surgery, Feltmate said everyday tasks were extremely difficult and put additional strain on his good knee.
“It’s impossible to go out in the yard, to shovel snow, cut grass and stuff like that,” he said. “You got the lawn mower in one hand and the cane on the other like you know, trying to work. It’s no fun, I tell ya.”
But stories like Feltmate’s aren’t unique in Nova Scotia.
“Nova Scotians wait longer than any other Canadians and the health authority has no public short term targets to inform Nova Scotians on when this will change and how,” Pickup said.
‘They need to commit to Nova Scotians’
In a recent report, Pickup said the Nova Scotia Health Authority has only met two of the seven recommendations put forward to them in 2014 that centred around operating room usage and surgical wait-time reporting.
He believes the health authority should set realistic targets for wait times in the province, targets that they can then be held accountable to.
“They need to commit to Nova Scotians as to when they are going to have targets,” Pickup said.
“Right now, it’s not only about not having short term targets. It’s about no indication about when they would even commit to having commitments, we’re the step before. I’m a little frustrated they won’t do that. Knees and hips are a huge, huge area impacting so many people and the quality of life. There are people behind these numbers, they aren’t just numbers.”
Opposition parties unhappy with government, lack of targets
Tim Guest, the vice-president of Integrated Health Services with the Nova Scotia Health Authority said there have been a number of factors that have impacted the health authority’s ability to complete the auditor general’s recommendations.
Those factors include infrastructure issues, recruitment, a workforce shortage and the reorganization of nine health authorities to one.
But the reorganization of the boards is not an excuse that is sitting well with the province’s opposition parties.
“I think it’s hard to get your head around the fact that three years into a new health authority, the government won’t even commit to making a commitment to how long people should have to wait,” said PC MLA Tim Houston.
“I think it is a scandal the auditor general has pointed out, that the Department of Health has failed to develop short term targets about hip and knee replacements,” said N.S. NDP leader Gary Burrill.
Heath authority says they’re actually ‘exceeding’ their own targets
While there are no public targets like the ones that the auditor general has suggested they put in place, the Nova Scotia Health Authority says they are making progress.
“We have set targets maybe not in the way he wanted us to,” Guest said.
He said Nova Scotia is starting from a “really difficult place in the country” and that things will look worse before it looks better because the health authority is taking a different approach.
Guest said that in 2015-16, the health authority had a target of 600 surgeries but managed to complete 675, even with sterilization problems at the Victoria General Hospital. For 2016-17, the health authority had set a goal of completing 736 surgeries but feel they are on target to actually complete 879.
“Our focus has been focusing on tackling individuals waiting the longest first. Not so much focused on achieving the 180-day national benchmark but actually focusing on bringing the volume of people on the wait list waiting a year or longer down.”
Guest said they hope to complete the other recommendations Pickup has put forward by the end of the year.