The growing backlogs

The unfortunate reality is that many countries struggle to keep up with the healthcare demands of their population, a situation made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. In most developed countries, hospitals will have a waiting list for a specific treatment i.e. a ‘visible backlog’ for that treatment. But there is, unfortunately, the very real problem of the ‘hidden backlog’ for a given treatment which consists of those patients who require care but have either not presented, or have not been referred, for specialist care, often due to fears of healthcare in a post-COVID world. Now, many patients who stayed away from healthcare due to the pandemic are starting to seek care, and a common problem throughout the Western World is that both the visible and hidden backlogs are growing, with little meaningful headway being made into reducing the waiting times.

New joints required

In several countries that offer universal healthcare, such as Canada and the UK, many people suffering with severe osteoarthritis requiring a joint replacement are brought into the waiting process after a GP visit. Their GP will have investigated their hip or knee pain with x-rays and an MRI and diagnosed their condition as requiring specialist orthopaedic intervention. The patient is then referred to their nearest hospital for orthopaedic care where they are placed on a waiting list for their surgery. While, for example, the UK has an 18-week waiting time target (126 days), over half of those waiting for treatment have been waiting for over 18 weeks, depending on the hospital and their condition. One of the ways the system works to reduce waiting times on paper, is to insist that orthopaedic patients see a physiotherapist before they are placed on the waiting list. Waiting times for a physio appointment can be several weeks but these weeks are not counted against the targeted waiting time. But people suffering with severe osteoarthritis need timely access to joint replacement surgery to ensure they can enjoy a decent quality of life. So what can they do?

Is it possible to jump the waiting list?

The NHS in England has put in place various initiatives since the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the ‘elective backlog recovery plan’, to try to address the backlog in elective surgery for conditions like severe hip and knee osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, this has not successfully reduced waiting times and many people are looking for ways to ‘jump’ the NHS waiting list. Patients are advised to stay in close contact with their GP, to attend all appointments, to try to get a second opinion and, as a last resort, consider private treatment. But the cost of a private hip replacement in the UK, is between £10,000 and £15,000, which puts it out of reach for many people.

An alternative to surgery on the NHS

The option of paying for their own surgery instead of waiting for their turn on the NHS, or equivalent health system, occurs to many patients. Older patients (>65) are often able to afford surgery in a private setting but are also, given their stage of life, able to travel more. The possibility of having their surgery completed within the time it usually takes just to get a physio appointment, should make patients in severe pain seriously consider the option of surgery abroad. South Africa has many highly qualified surgeons and world-class facilities. Add to that the fact that the rand is weak against major currencies, and it means that flights, accommodation and visits to outstanding tourist destinations, in addition to their surgery, are within reach of many patients who may never have considered travelling to have their surgery done.

Next (soon to be pain-free) steps

Patients who are considering having their surgery done overseas should contact their chosen surgeon to have a virtual consultation where x-rays and MRIs can also be reviewed. Cape Hip and Knee has connections with travel agents in the medical tourism field who can then assist patients in making the arrangements they need to ensure a pleasant travel experience both pre- and post-surgery.

Should you have your Hip or Knee Replacement Surgery abroad?