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Sask. wait times for knee, hip surgeries worst in Canada in first 18 months of pandemic: report

Brenda Andrews, 62, loves hiking, biking and skiing, but in January 2021, she could barely even walk.

She has severe arthritis in both her knees and has been on the wait list for knee replacement surgery for 15 months.

“It’s a bit of a helpless situation,” Andrews said in an interview. “And I think the frustrating part is that Saskatchewan was the birthplace of medicare.”

Andrews said she can’t go up and down stairs easily or carry heavy objects. Her pain is getting worse and at times is “tooth-gritting.”

Saskatchewan resident Brenda Andrews loves being active but has stopped doing many activities because of severe knee pain. She has been waiting for knee replacement surgery since January 2021. (Submitted by Brenda Andrews)

Andrews, who lives in Kamsack, has had to travel almost 270 kilometres to Regina several times to receive artificial joint fluid shots, which aren’t covered under her health plan, to relieve joint pain and inflammation.

She said she has spent more than $2,000 on shots, travel and physiotherapy.

Andrews’s surgery is still a long way off. Her doctors have told her she’s on target to get her surgery in early 2023.

30% of knee surgeries within benchmark

In the first 18 months of the pandemic, only 30 per cent of Saskatchewan people got knee replacement surgeries within the national benchmark time frame of six months, according to the latest report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Saskatchewan did the worst out of all provinces on this front. The Prairie province also had the worst wait times for hip replacement surgeries, with 43 per cent of people getting a new hip within the recommended six month time span. 

Nationwide, 59 per cent of Canadians who needed a knee replacement got one within the recommended time span and 65 per cent of Canadians who needed a hip replacement were also able to get their surgeries within the six-month recommendation. 

Pre-pandemic, about 70 per cent of patients nationwide got their knees replaced within the recommended time span.

The report doesn’t include data on how the coronavirus waves caused by the Delta variant, or Omicron and its subvariants, impacted wait times.

Saskatchewan health services including elective procedures, organ transplants and cancer treatments were put on hold in September so health-care workers could focus their efforts on combating record-breaking COVID-19 numbers. These procedures started gradually resuming in the second week of November.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the province is ramping up surgeries in the public and private sectors. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Health Minister Paul Merriman said on Monday that provincial surgical capacity has been at about 97 per cent over the last three months, with some communities exceeding their scheduled surgeries.

However, there are still about 34,000 to 35,000 people waiting for procedures, according to Merriman. 

“We have cranked up our surgical procedures both in the publicly funded private sector but also the public sector … to be able to meet those needs,” he said.

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