Yukon’s orthopedic surgeons halting elective surgery referrals

The Whitehorse General Hospital in February 2022. The hospital’s orthopedic surgery unit has stopped taking new patients until further notice as the wait list for elective joint replacement surgery has grown exponentially. (Kiyoshi Maguire/CBC)

The Whitehorse hospital’s orthopedic surgery unit has stopped taking new patients until further notice.

In an email to Yukon Medical Association physicians on April 4, the territory’s two orthopedic surgeons said the wait list for elective joint replacement surgery has grown “well beyond what is manageable with current local resources.”

The wait list had 284 names as of January, according to a government spokesperson. Last year, doctors warned that wait times for elective surgeries were 18 to 24 months. At that time, they said an increase in patients, staffing shortages, lack of beds and lack of funding were contributing to the wait times.

The doctors say they haven’t seen an increase in funding nor operational support, despite spending two years in consultation with the Yukon government. 

“We cannot reliably maintain the standard of care until certain sustainability measures are implemented,” the email says. 

Consultation requests received after April 4 will be rejected until further notice.

The surgeons have advised doctors to refer semi-urgent consultation requests outside of the territory.

Hospital funding falling behind demand

The hospital in Whitehorse has offered orthopedic surgeries since 2017. The unit is funded for 100 joint replacement surgeries per year.

Premier Ranj Pillai concedes that the demand has grown beyond that.

“We have more complex patients coming in our doors, we’ve got an aging population, these are all reasons that healthcare is more expensive and challenging,” Pillai said on Tuesday.

The premier says his government is already in talks with the orthopedic surgery unit and the hospital corporation about expansion. A new memorandum of understanding will eventually be required to increase capacity, he said.

Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee says next year’s budget includes the funding that the hospital corporation asked for, and that her department is working to increase the number of surgeries.

“Our hope is that these temporary issues will be resolved quickly,” McPhee said.

Surgery unit needs ‘an entire hospital’ to grow

The hospital needs more resources across the board to grow its surgery capacity, according to Dr. Alex Kmet, the president of the Yukon Medical Association. Growing capacity requires more doctors, more supporting staff, more equipment and more beds. There needs to be space for elective surgeries as well as emergency operating rooms and bed capacity for postoperative care.

“It’s not like you can magically create beds and nurses overnight,” Kmet said. “Fundamentally, you need an entire hospital.”

Kmet said he’s optimistic things will improve over the next year, as the government pledges more support for the hospital corporation.

“I’m hopeful that in the next year, we’ll see some tangible increases in terms of available capacity for people who need to be hospitalized,” Kmet said.

Gabrielle Plonka

Related stories from around the North :

Canada: Yukon man facing ‘unthinkable’ 2-year surgery wait pursues $30,000 private option, CBC News

Greenland: Greenland to reduce services amidst staffing shortages in health care system, Eye on the Arctic

Finland : Finland’s elder care needs funding boost to meet Nordic standards: researcher, Yle News

CBC News

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