Alberta's UCP government has announced immediate access to thousands more publicly funded orthopedic surgeries as the province is partnering with more Calgary-chartered surgical facilities.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) identified more than 6,000 people waiting for orthopedic surgeries in Calgary. Over half are waiting longer than "clinically appropriate" for knee and hip replacements.
"Albertans are waiting too long for life-changing knee and hip surgeries in Calgary, many of whom are in pain," said Health Minister Jason Copping, as he spoke to his government's new Health Care Action Plan (HCAP) Monday.
"Our Health Care Action Plan will accelerate adding more surgeries both at hospitals across Alberta and chartered surgical facilities to reduce wait times to the waiting period recommended by medical experts."
HCAP pinpointed the use of independent facilities to reduce surgical backlogs as part of a new contract with Alberta Health Services (AHS). It will increase orthopedic procedures performed in the Calgary area by 21% compared with 2021/22.
In January, Canadian Surgery Solutions (CSS) will offer over 3,000 additional hip and knee replacements and joint procedures annually. Over 6,000 Calgarians alone are on a waitlist for orthopedic surgery.
"This contract will ensure AHS continues to improve access to surgical care for many Albertans," said Mauro Chies, interim president and CEO of AHS. "We're looking forward to working with Canadian Surgery Solutions and other groups as we explore opportunities for further expansion."
HCAP mandates that the AHS official administrator lower surgery wait times to within clinically recommended times. The UCP said Monday's announcement ensures Albertans immediately receive their surgeries by utilizing unused operating rooms in chartered surgical facilities.
"Contracting facilities and hospitals are managed in common through our publicly funded healthcare system," clarified Copping. "Contracted services are publicly funded services.
"Like in hospitals, patients are assessed, waitlists are common, and they get care from the same surgeons according to the same clinical standards."
"More patients will get their joint replacements sooner," he said, adding that half the patients waiting for new hips and two-thirds of patients waiting for knees are waiting too long for their respective surgeries.
In 2021/22, the median wait time for Albertans needing orthopedic surgery was 48.4 weeks, waiting for 16 weeks to meet with a specialist and 32.4 weeks to receive treatment after meeting the specialist.
According to the Fraser Institute, the reasonable wait time for all surgeries in Alberta is 11.1 weeks, representing a difference of 8.1 weeks as residents waited nearly five months to receive treatment last year.
The health minister continued that funding more services performed at hospitals or CSS grows the publicly-funded system without stealing staff or physicians from each other.
"We're making progress in surgery," said Copping. "But we have to do more."
With AHS restoring surgery volume to near 2018/19 levels in recent months, it aims to expand surgery capacity in the Central and South zones.
AHS has issued two requests for proposals for chartered surgical facilities, seeking 1,350 surgeries in the Central Zone and about 1,250 more procedures in the South Zone, ranging from hip and knee to general surgeries.