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The painful truth of waiting for hip and knee arthroplasty in Northern Ireland

a cohort study of the worst NHS waiting lists for elective hip and knee arthroplasty

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The aim of this study was to report health-related quality of life (HRQoL) and joint-specific function in patients waiting for total hip or knee arthroplasty surgery (THA or TKA) in Northern Ireland, compared to published literature and a matched normal population. Secondary aims were to report emergency department (ED) and out-of-hours general practitioner (OOH GP) visits, new prescriptions of strong opioids, and new prescriptions of antidepressants while waiting.


This was a cohort study of 991 patients on the waiting list for arthroplasty in a single Northern Ireland NHS trust: 497 on the waiting list for ≤ three months; and 494 waiting ≥ three years. Postal surveys included the EuroQol five-dimension five-level questionnaire (EQ-5D-5L), visual analogue scores (EQ-VAS), and Oxford Hip and Knee scores to assess HRQoL and joint-specific function. Electronic records determined prescriptions since addition to the waiting list and patient attendances at OOH GP/EDs.


Overall, 712/991 (71.8%) responded at ≤ three months for THA (n = 164) and TKA (n = 199), and ≥ three years for THA (n = 88) and TKA (n = 261). The median EQ-5D-5L score in those waiting ≤ three months was 0.155 (interquartile range (IQR) -0.118 to 0.375) and 0.189 (IQR -0.130 to 0.377) for ≥ three years. Matched controls had a median EQ-5D-5L 0.837 (IQR 0.728 to 1.000). Compared to matched controls, EQ-5D-5L scores were significantly lower in both waiting cohorts (p < 0.001) with significant differences found in every domain. Negative scores, indicating a state “worse than death”, were present in 40% at ≤ three months and 38% at ≥ three years. Patients waiting ≥ three years had significantly more opioid (28.4% vs 15.2%; p < 0.001) and antidepressant prescriptions (15.2% vs 9.9%; p = 0.034) and significantly more joint-related attendances at unscheduled care (11.7% vs 0% with ≥ one ED attendance (p < 0.001) and (25.5% vs 2.5% ≥ one OOH GP attendance (p < 0.001)).


Patients on waiting lists in Northern Ireland are severely disabled with the worst HRQoL and functional scores studied. The lack of deterioration in EQ-5D-5L and joint-specific scores between patients waiting ≤ three months and ≥ three years likely reflects floor effects of these scores. Prolonged waits were associated with increased dependence on strong opiates, depression, and attendances at unscheduled care.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2023;105-B(7):783–794.

Correspondence should be sent to Mr Paul N. Karayiannis. E-mail:

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