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Surgical wait times OK says doctor

Dorothy Westerman
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 23/05) - Stanton Territorial Hospital is currently operating within Canadian standards for wait times for surgeries, says its medical director.

"We fit within the Canadian guidelines quite well," Dr. John Morse said.

"Our patients here aren't waiting for surgeries at Stanton any longer than they do in Alberta, B.C., Ontario or anywhere else."

As of November at Stanton, there were 25 patients waiting for cataract surgery; 109 for ear, nose or throat surgery; 112 for general; 55 for gynecological; 216 for orthopedic and 168 for dental.

The federal government has recently released a list of benchmark

wait times for various surgeries and procedures which Canadian hospitals should strive to meet by the end of 2007.

The estimated expected wait times do not include emergency procedures.

Radiation therapy for cancer, for example, is to be done within four weeks of patients being ready for treatment.

For cardiac bypass surgery, a list of urgency is established: For Level I patients, there is a two-week benchmark. For Level II, it is six weeks and for Level III it is within 26 weeks.

Both these procedures are done in Edmonton, Dr. Morse said.

The benchmark for hip fracture fixation is within 48 hours; hip replacements within 26 weeks; knee replacements within 26 weeks; high risk cataract surgery, within 16 weeks; breast cancer screening, every two years for women aged 50-69; and cervical cancer screening every three years after two normal tests for women aged 18-69.

All these procedures are done in Yellowknife.

There is also a mammography unit in Inuvik and a breast screening program for Yellowknife, Ndilo and Dettah.

"And any woman from a community who comes to Yellowknife for any type of procedure will be offered mammography while they are here if they wish."

Morse said the benchmarks, while not cast in stone, are a good start.

"You have to start somewhere. If we can use the same method of measuring wait times across the country, at least the data can be interchanged and compared in a meaningful way," he said.

Nevertheless, challenges do exist in the North.

"This year, we've had a 20 per cent physician turnover rate," he said.

"But there's been no break in service. I would think that in the next three months we will have the positions filled," Morse said of physician vacancies which currently exist. Morse said there are always concerns for patients when waiting for surgery.

"Sometimes it works out to be very convenient, but more often than not, there is some discomfort and concern when waiting for surgery," Morse said.

"We have been tracking these wait lists and now we have some national definitions about what these wait times means," he said.

The Yellowknife hospital provides a continuum of service with the Capital Health Authority in Alberta.

"We provide the service in the nearest centre that it can be provided," Morse said.

Patients from the NWT are put on a waitlist with those from Alberta and prioritized depending on level of urgency.

"Our patients have as good access as the residents in Edmonton or Northern Alberta."

The hospital has established a list of the number of people waiting by surgery type, using November and July 2005 in comparison.

"We know that in 2006, this will be listed as weeks or months," Morse said of the method of determining how long one waits for surgery.

Minister of Health Michael Miltenberger was unavailable for comment.

Dr. Kami Kandola, president of the NWT Medical Association, could not comment until she consults with association members.