The association representing orthopaedic surgeons and patients in B.C. has requested an urgent meeting with Health Minister Adrian Dix as waitlists across the province continue to grow.
Earlier this month, Dix claimed nearly 100 per cent of surgeries postponed in the province during the first, second and third waves of COVID-19 had been completed. That claim “in no way reflects” the orthopedic sector’s experience, according to a letter penned March 16 to the minister from the B.C. Orthopaedic Association (BCOA).
“We are bringing this to your attention urgently as we nervously see these trends continuing with detrimental impact to our patients’ mobility and mental health,” wrote Dr. Cassandra Lane Dielwart, BCOA president-elect.
“Unfortunately, orthopaedic surgery is often labelled as ‘elective,’ which implies these surgical procedures are non-urgent. As such, orthopaedics has been hit by closures at a disproportionately high rate compared to all other surgical specialties.”
According to the BCOA, a surgeon in Prince George, B.C. has seen his waitlist recently triple — from between 80 and 90 patients in the five years leading up to the pandemic to more than 270.
There are more than 1,200 patients on the orthopaedic surgical waitlist in Kelowna, it added in the letter, while in Kamloops, more than 1,800 hours of orthopaedic operating time has been lost — enough time to complete the surgeries of about 900 patients.
“The patient stories that have consistently filtered in across this pandemic, as our waitlists continue to grow, are filled with tales of uncontrollable pain, loss of mobility, loss of independence, ultimately leading to depression, short and long-term disability, job loss, and an increasing prevalence of narcotic dependence,” wrote Lane Dielwart.
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The day Dix declared pandemic-postponed surgeries were “back on track” in the province, she said she received dozens of texts, calls and emails from astonished orthopaedic surgeons in every health authority.
In a Tuesday interview, Dix said all surgeries — including orthopaedic surgeries — are “real priority surgeries.”
Between 2019 and 2021, he added, the health department has increased surgery capacity throughout the province. He said reducing hip and knee placement surgeries has been a particular priority.
“We’ve been succeeding across surgical categories,” he said. “They’re all important and that’s why we’ve dramatically increased orthopaedic surgery in the last number of years, because we understand and everyone understands that when orthopaedic surgery is delayed, it can have long-term implications.”
Last week, Dix added, just under 7,000 surgeries were performed in the public health-care system across the province, which is “pretty much back to normal” after the fifth wave.
Bitte Baxter, a B.C. resident, told Global News she has been on the waitlist for orthopaedic surgery for two-and-a-half years. She needs both knees replaced, and was told more than a year ago her right knee would be replaced within a month.
“Increasingly I’m losing my mobility and my safety, not being able to use my right leg,” she explained. “My other knee is getting as bad as the right knee was … I’m getting pretty desperate.”
Baxter, a skier, described herself as a “high-spirited” person normally, but her lack of mobility has led to “a lot of depression.”
“I constantly have to deal with pain and it becomes overwhelming and exhausting,” she said. “Still, I know I can be more of the person I used to be.”
Her surgery is now scheduled for April 1, after which she’ll wait to be scheduled for her left knee.