Vancouver~ The provincial government’s recent announcement of targeted funding for more hip and knee replacement surgeries may mean decreased access for the other 85% of orthopaedic patients on wait lists, according to Dr. Alastair Younger, president of the BC Orthopaedic Association.
“While we are pleased there is a promise for more timely access to care for our hip and knee replacement patients, they only amount to 15% of all orthopaedic surgeries in the province,” he pointed out. “The other 85% still face long wait-times – from referral to consultation with a surgeon, to surgery itself takes an average of almost a full year – and that is not timely care.
“Many patients requiring orthopaedic care are unable to work,” Dr. Younger explained. “For example, half of patients with ankle arthritis cannot work. In the absence of more funding for these types of patients, the priority on hips and knees could well increase wait times for patients suffering with ankle, shoulder, foot, hand, wrist, elbow and other musculoskeletal challenges.”
Dr. Younger pointed out that more funding for hip and knee replacements does not address the increased need for access to trauma surgery because of our growing and aging population. “Orthopaedic surgeons cover both elective surgery and fractured bones,” Dr. Younger explained. “The fractures are often managed at night and over weekends, and amount to over 50% of the work performed by orthopaedic surgeons. With more hip and knee replacements being required by the government’s program, this may mean reduced access to trauma surgery and certainly puts more strain on all the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff providing orthopaedic care.
“We do laud the government’s announcement and we always want to work with the Ministry of Health towards improving timely access to care for all orthopaedic patients,” Dr. Younger said. “But we feel strongly that unequal access to care is a violation of the Accessibility Principle of the Canada Health Act and indeed, restricted access to care may be viewed as a human rights violation. We take these ethical and legal considerations seriously.
“There’s also the practical side to consider as well,” he pointed out. “Some facilities and administrators will make resource allocation decisions to prioritize hip and knee replacements and that will exacerbate wait times for other orthopaedic patients. For example, we treat many children, teens and young adults who may face lifelong disabilities or missed opportunities without appropriate and timely care.”
The British Columbia Orthopaedic Association is the professional organization that advocates for orthopaedic patients and represents the majority of orthopaedic surgeons in the province.