The curious case of ballooning orthopedic surgery wait times
VANCOUVER -- Azza Sedky has lived with the growing pain in both knees for the last four or five years.
“Where do I start?” the retired professor, 72, told me on the porch of her North Vancouver home, when I asked how they’re feeling.
Last summer, she said, her orthopedist looked at her X-rays and told her it was time to replace both, or she’d be facing a future in a wheelchair.
“I used to walk at least an hour,” Sedky said, “and now I can’t go around the block.”
Doctors scheduled her first replacement at Lions Gate Hospital for March 27, but when the pandemic hit, it was cancelled.
And when B.C. health officials announced a plan to resume elective surgeries, and start catching up on a backlog of 30,000 procedures across the province, Sedky thought she’d soon be thinking less about the pain, and more about recovery.
Her orthopedist’s office called in late May and told Sedky she was number 20 on the list, and she thought it would be a couple of weeks.
But days later, Sedky received a letter from the surgeons at Pacific Orthopaedics and Sport Medicine.
Sedky was shocked.
The letter outlined that over 1,000 of their patients were currently awaiting surgery, but that surgeons were only allocated a total of three elective operating rooms per week at Lions Gate Hospital, one-third of normal volumes.
“This is not a return to normal, and differs significantly from the expectations set forth by Minister Dix and his administration,” the letter read.
In May, Health Minister Adrian Dix promised those who were waiting for surgeries a “100 per cent commitment” from the healthcare system, while unveiling a $250 million plan to catch up over the next 17 to 24 months.
North Vancouver-Seymour Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite, who Sedky reached out to, called the delays at Lions Gate Hospital an “issue of expectations” and that the expectations put forward by the NDP government were, for some patients, “obviously a gross overstatement.”
The letter from Sedky’s orthopedist told her to prepare for a “significantly longer” wait, potentially over a year.
“I can live with the limping, but I can’t live with the getting out of bed,” Sedky said.
Making matters more curious, the surgeons had polled colleagues across 14 other hospitals and all planned to resume normal delivery of orthopedic surgeries by early June.
Lions Gate Hospital appeared to be the exception.
To Sedky, and her surgeon, it didn’t make sense.
B.C.’s Health Ministry deferred requests for comment to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), the administrator for Lions Gate Hospital.
The health authority told CTV News that because of a COVID-19 outbreak at Lions Gate, a higher proportion of surgeries had been cancelled compared with other hospitals.
“Cancer surgeries and vascular surgeries, which may have a higher degree of poorer outcomes if not performed in a timely manner, are prioritized over orthopedic procedures,” the statement read.
VCH also indicated one of the operating rooms is being reserved for COVID-19 patients.
Sedky’s best guess on when she’ll have her first knee replacement?
“Oh, I think it won’t be before March,” she said.
And finding another doctor that operates at another site would likely make her wait even longer.
So what does she plan to do in the meantime, I asked.
“Hobble,” Sedky said with a smile.