Canada dealing with longer wait times for joint replacements amid surgical backlog, report says

Patients in Canada are undergoing longer wait times for hip and knee replacement surgeries, as hospitals continue to combat a massive surgical backlog. (Courtesy: Canva)


As the effort to reduce extensive surgical backlog persists, new data is showing that patients across Canada are experiencing longer wait times for hip and knee replacements now, compared to pre-pandemic times. 

“About 937,000 fewer surgeries have been performed in Canada throughout the pandemic, with joint replacements and cataract surgeries accounting for about 24 per cent of the total reduction in surgeries,” according to a report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).   

This research was analyzed using 2019 as a baseline comparator and studied the number of surgeries and trends in wait times since the beginning of the pandemic.

During the first four months of the pandemic, between March to June 2020, hospitals endured the highest decrease in surgeries as many were cancelled or postponed as a result of Canada’s COVID-19 public health guidelines. 

To efficiently recover and reduce surgical backlogs, researchers say “provinces and territories will need to exceed pre-pandemic surgery numbers”. 

There have been few instances when the number of surgeries completed nationally transcended past surgery numbers from before the pandemic. This has occurred in March 2021 (increase of 7%), March 2022 (increase of 3%) and June 2022 (increase of 4%).

Surgeries were downsized across all age groups and for both male and females nationally. Additionally, the pandemic also caused a significant reduction in surgeries for those living in lower-income neighbourhoods. The CIHI says one of the factors contributing to this problem is the healthcare worker shortage. 

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Among the scheduled surgeries throughout the pandemic, joint replacements and cataract surgeries were consistently delayed or cancelled. 

(Courtesy: Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI))

The report found that adults ages 18 and older received 35,850 (20%) fewer knee replacements and 12,000 (11%) fewer hip replacements between April 2020 and September 2022. Meanwhile, 92,200 (10%) fewer Canadians received their cataract surgeries.

In 2022, nearly 40 per cent of patients who needed a hip or knee replacement or cataract surgery did not have their procedure within the recommended time frame, in comparison to pre-pandemic when the percentage was 70 per cent. 

On the other hand, numbers for cataract surgeries have been bouncing back in some provinces because they can be done in procedure rooms or community clinics.  However, joint replacement surgeries need to be done in hospital operating rooms. Wait times for cataract surgeries returned to pre-pandemic levels by fall 2020 and remain that way today.

(Courtesy: Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI))

The CIHI says 66 per cent of patients have received surgery within the recommended time frame in most provinces, but in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Quebec, wait time numbers are still catching up to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.

Despite recent data showing some success in the number of scheduled surgeries for joint replacements catching up to past levels, researchers say it’s still not enough to completely clear the backlog and improve wait times. 



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