02/18/2015 02:11 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia Health board amalgamation will reduce wait lists: deputy minister

HALIFAX - Even though more hip and knee surgeries are being performed it will take time to reduce a backlog on Nova Scotia's waiting list, the province's deputy health minister said Wednesday.

Peter Vaughn told the legislature's public accounts committee he believes there will be improvements in wait times once the province cuts the number of health authorities from 10 to two as of April 1. But he said they won't be immediate.

"Once you have a backlog of anything you have to work away to manage that," said Vaughn.

He said $4 million spent in the previous two fiscal years resulted in close to 700 additional knee, hip and pediatric spine surgeries, while another $2 million for this fiscal year will add another 350 procedures.

In a report released in December, Nova Scotia's auditor general said only 43 per cent of knee replacements and 58 per cent of hip replacements met the six-month national benchmark in 2013, the lowest rate in the country.

Michael Pickup also quoted a Health Department estimate that $35 million was needed to start completing 90 per cent of hip and knee replacements within the six-month time frame and another $7.7 million would be needed annually to maintain the standard.

Vaughn said he won't know how accurate the estimate is until the amalgamation of health authorities is complete.

"We do not have confidence that the figures quoted in the past indicate what we will need in the future," he said.

He also told the committee that more younger people in their 40s are requiring procedures, such as hip and knee replacements.

The increase is the result of lifestyle choices related to diet and a lack of physical activity, he said.

Progressive Conservative health critic Chris d'Entremont said he doubts that the amalgamation of health boards will reduce the surgery backlogs.

"The amalgamation of the services is not going to change how physicians operate today," he said.