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'Nobody needs to suffer': Albertans still not having surgeries on time

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Many Albertans needing surgeries such as hip and knee replacements aren't having the procedures done on time, according to a new study.

The data, from a Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) study released Thursday, found that patients waiting for hip replacements in Alberta are only having their surgeries done on time 59 per cent of the time.

For knee replacement surgeries it's even lower with only 49 per cent of surgeries meeting the 26-week threshold recommended for the procedures after first visiting a surgeon.

Both are below the Canadian average.

Exploring Wait Times for Priority Procedures Across Canada, the study used the same benchmark data to compare provinces across the country.

Cheryl Chui, CIHI’s director of health system analytics, says the study is based on the benchmark 26-week period from diagnosis to treatment.

"It's really sort of the date when the patient and the surgeon or the appropriate physician agreed that the surgery is required and the patient's ready to receive it," she said.

"All jurisdictions that are giving data to us use the same definition. So it is comparing apples to apples across provinces."

The study also found Alberta was below the national average for cataract surgeries and not meeting its own benchmarks.

It was just over a year ago, in a press conference alongside Premier Danielle Smith that Alberta Health Service's appointed administrator Dr. John Cowell boldly predicted an end to long surgical wait times.

“By March of 2024, nobody will be outside of clinically weighted wait times,” said Cowell.

“My team and I are absolutely confident that this is achievable.”

Sam Quartararo, a Calgary contractor recovering from double knee replacement surgery, can attest to the fact Cowell's promise was not met.

Before undergoing the procedures in early March he said he waited over two years.

"The pain was unbearable," said Quartararo. "Nobody needs to suffer the way I was suffering it was terrible."

But too many Albertans are suffering through long waits for surgery, says NDP health critic Luanne Metz.

"The thing to remember is that these times are from when they see a surgeon that puts them on the list. This doesn't include the time that they're waiting to see the surgeon. So these times are bad, they're very bad," said Metz.

"It really says that the chaos that has been created by not stabilizing and supporting our system and instead of blowing it up is having consequences for everyday Albertans who need health care."

The CIHI study examined wait lists for the period between April and September 2023.

The province does not dispute the CIHI findings, but in a statement to CTV News, a spokesperson for Minister of Health Adriana LaGrange claimed the times have improved since the CIHI data was collected.

"As of March 25, 62.2 per cent of waitlist patients for all adult surgeries are occurring within clinically recommended times," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"We know there is still room for improvement and this is why Budget 2024 invested $618 million into the Alberta Surgical Initiative plus an additional $4.4 billion towards acute care operating expenses."

The CIHI report was not all bad news.

The agency found that almost everyone (97 per cent) in Alberta needing radiation treatment for cancer received it within 28 days.

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