Surgical wait time have tripled in Alberta over the past 20 years

Dec 10 2019, 12:00 pm

A new initiative by the provincial government looks to offer more surgeries and reduce surgical wait times.

The plan was announced by Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro today, in hopes of ensuring patients get their surgeries within time frames set by medical specialists.

“We’re going to have the best access to scheduled surgeries in Canada,” said Shandro in a press conference early today.

“The reality is we’re very far behind.”

A recently released report from the Fraser Institute entitled Waiting Your Turn indicates that waiting times for medically necessary treatment have increased since last year.

The report states that in Alberta, the wait between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of treatment has nearly tripled over the last 20 years.

The new initiative will provide up to 80,000 more publicly funded surgeries over the next four years to meet wait-time targets and to ensure people receive care within clinically recommended times.

According to Shandro, in 2014, 87% of Albertans received hip replacement surgery within a six-month target, while last year, it was 70%.

Shandro also said that the number of Albertans who received knee replacements within the target dropped from 81% in 2014 to 66% last year, while 71% of those waiting for cataract surgery received it within target in 2014, versus only 49% last year.

“In May 2019, more than 70,000 Albertans were waiting for surgery, and close to 40% of them were waiting much longer than the clinically recommended wait time,” said Shandro in the press conference.

According to the Fraser Institute, wait times for necessary treatments are more than just inconveniences.

“Wait times can, and do, have serious consequences such as increased pain, suffering, and mental anguish. In certain instances, they can also result in poorer medical outcomes—transforming potentially reversible illnesses or injuries into chronic, irreversible conditions, or even permanent disabilities,” said the report.

According to a release from the province, the wait-times initiative will “improve and standardize the entire surgical system from the time patients seek advice from their family doctor, to when they are referred to a specialist, to their surgery and rehabilitation.”

The initiative will also include expanding telephone and electronic advice programs so that primary care providers can receive timely advice from medical and surgical specialists, and creating a centralized electronic referral system that triages every person waiting for surgery so that they see the right specialist in the shortest time.

“This is great news for Albertans. Increased access for our retina patients in our publicly funded ambulatory surgical centre will free up hospital resources, reduce wait times and alleviate access pressure in other surgical areas,” said Dr. Geoff Williams, retina specialist and surgeon, and co-founder of the Southern Alberta Eye Centre.

“Hospital beds are better allocated to sick, complex or injured individuals. Our surgical centre can help the many others needing eye surgery, but who are otherwise healthy and don’t require admission to hospital. We’re pleased to be part of the solution,” said Dr. Williams.