June 4, 2009
FREDERICTON (CNB) - The median number of days New Brunswickers wait for surgery has dropped by 23 per cent over the past year, Health Minister Michael Murphy announced today.
"Our government is waging a war on wait times, and we are winning that war," said Murphy. "Since October 2006, the previous eight Regional Health Authorities (RHAs) have been integrated into two, making for a more efficient delivery of services."
Between March 31, 2008, and March 31, 2009, the median wait in days for all scheduled surgeries fell to 67 days from 87 days. For cancer-related surgeries, the decline in the median wait in days fell to 14 days from 24 days, a decrease of 42 per cent.
The impact of a variety of measures undertaken since October 2006 is now showing up, Murphy said. These include the development of the provincial surgical access registry, which has been fully operational across the province since December 2007. The registry has the name of every patient waiting for surgery in New Brunswick, the type of surgery being waited for, its urgency, and who is going to do the surgery and where.
"Surgeons, surgical teams, surgical access managers and the access management team within the health system have been working with this data to improve access and ensure that those patients with the most urgent need are the first to receive care," said Murphy.
Murphy said that the pre-operative clinic initiative to pre-screen all patients before scheduled surgeries has also had a positive impact. The standardized approach for pre-operative clinics was implemented in 2008. Every patient who is to receive the services of an anesthesiologist during surgery completes a pre-operative questionnaire in preparation for that surgery, and all patients are screened by a pre-operative clinic nurse prior to surgery.
"The provincial pre-operative screening program has helped eliminate situations where surgeries are cancelled at the last minute because a test was not done or a condition identified," said Murphy.
Another reason for the improvement in wait times is the work done since October 2006 to improve efficiency issues brought to light as a result of a surgical operational review conducted at each of the 16 sites in the province where surgery is performed.
"Each of these sites has now implemented all or most of the recommendations from the surgical operational review," said Murphy. "The impact has been to improve efficiencies, thereby improving access to surgery."
Murphy said that New Brunswickers can learn more about wait times by visiting the surgical wait times website. The site was revamped last year to provide additional surgical wait-time data that is updated every three months.
"This improved website will help New Brunswickers to be informed about where surgical wait times are the shortest, decide where they would like to have the surgery performed, and gain a better understanding of the surgical process, services and wait times in our province," said Murphy.
Wait time reports are available by selecting either a facility from among the 16 where surgeries are performed, a specialty from among the 12 available, or one of 13 high-volume surgical procedures. As of April, the site also reports wait times for nine high-volume cancer surgeries.
The website provides questions for people to ask their doctors, answers to frequently asked questions, and surgical preparation guide and pre-operative screening questionnaires that may be printed and completed in advance of a patient's visit to a surgeon. The website now also features contact information for the access management offices in the eight regional hospitals. Access managers work with surgeons to improve surgical access, and can provide individuals with their specific surgical wait time information.
While progress is being made, Murphy said that there is more to do.
During development of the 2009-10 budget, the Department of Health was projecting an over-expenditure of $40 million for the 2008-09 fiscal year. The department now anticipates the shortfall to be less than $30 million, with final figures to be released in the province's financial statements in the fall.
"These cost savings are due to the integration caused by the RHA restructuring," said Murphy. "Our increased focus on operating within our means helps ensure that we are better able to contain costs and keep programs running and hospitals open, contributing to decreasing wait times.
"The war on wait times is one we will wage until all surgeries are scheduled and performed within a timeframe that is determined by medical professionals based on the condition of the patient. We are not there yet - no jurisdiction is - but we are making progress, and this will remain a priority in our ongoing efforts to promote the sustainability of the health-care system, and position New Brunswick to achieve self-sufficiency by 2026."
MEDIA CONTACT: Meghan Cumby, communications, Department of Health, 506-457-3522.