Some cancer patients waiting longer for surgery as B.C. puts focus on hips, knees

Some cancer patients waiting longer for surgery as B.C. puts focus on hips, knees

Abbotsford doctors say focus on joints and a lack of anesthesiologists leave local patients waiting

This story has been updated with comments from Fraser Health and the provincial Health Ministry.

Surgery patients in Abbotsford, including those with cancer, are facing longer wait times because the city’s overcrowded hospital has become a regional hub for knee and hip operations, local doctors say. A

A lack of staff – and particularly a shortage of anesthesiologists – means a provincial drive to reduce wait times for knee and hip surgeries has left Abbotsford patients waiting significantly longer, more than two dozen physicians have told the provincial government.

The province and Fraser Health said developing a new knee and hip surgery program in Abbotsford was done in consultation with local doctors. But for several months, those doctors have been expressing concerns about the effect of the program on local residents.

In a letter sent in June and obtained by The News, an Abbotsford cancer surgeon warned Health Minister Adrian Dix that wait times for her services had increased by around 50 per cent.

The situation hasn’t improved and on Oct. 17, more than 30 surgeons and anesthesiologists sent a letter to Dix telling him that the government’s push to reduce hip- and knee-surgery wait times and trouble recruiting and retaining anesthesiologists was leading to longer waits for Abbotsford and Mission residents who needed surgery.

That letter (read below) said the problem was linked to the selection of Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH) as a site where out-of-town surgeons can come to perform hip and knee surgeries.

“As of September 2019, this program will displace the much-needed care of many local residents of Abbotsford and Mission,” the letter states.

RELATED: Abbotsford hospital has ‘extraordinary’ challenges, says health minister as ER construction nears

RELATED: FULL HOUSE: More people, more patients, but ARH beds remain below 2013 levels

Surgical wait-list figures bear that out. The number of people waiting for medically necessary surgeries across the Fraser Health Authority has risen by 14 per cent, according to a surgeon patient registry obtained by The News.

ARH gets extra money to host out-of-town surgeons, but local doctors say that money hasn’t fixed the staff shortages that are taxing the system.

Although the surgeons and patients are coming from elsewhere in the Fraser Health region, which ranges from White Rock to Boston Bar, operating rooms rely on Abbotsford-based nurses, support workers and anesthesiologists. Most surgeries are still performed by Abbotsford surgeons on local residents. But about 40 per cent of those patients who receive hip and knee surgeries are from outside communities.

Patients also recuperate in beds at ARH, which has operated more than 15 per cent over capacity for years. Last month, Dix admitted the hospital faces “extraordinary challenges.”

The doctors say an inability by Fraser Health to hire and retain anesthesiologists is at the heart of the issue.

Over the last year, the hospital has lost three of 12 anesthesiologists, a situation the doctors’ joint letter says has resulted “in a critical shortage to the extent that essential services are likely to be compromised.”

The letter sent by the cancer surgeon in June highlighted the issue, saying the hospital had struggled with maintaining a full complement of anesthesiologists for years.

That doctor, who spoke to The News this week but wished to remain anonymous to protect her practice, said anesthesiologists are both overworked and paid significantly less than counterparts in Vancouver. That makes it difficult to recruit newcomers.

The doctor said Fraser Health has refused to use a private recruiter to find new anesthesiologists, and instead relied on a “passive” process that hasn’t yielded any results.

Catherina Mattheus, the co-chief of the anesthesiology department, said doctors want to see the “regional bureaucracy move out of the way” and allow local doctors to work directly with health recruiters.

“Abbotsford is itself: it is not generic B.C. or Lower Mainland,” Mattheus said in an email to The News. “If we want to recruit here, we need to sell Abbotsford and its strengths. Until we do that, we won’t have much success against the major centres.”

Until new anesthesiologists come on board, Mattheus says the priority should be on serving the local community.

The provincial health ministry has rebuffed The News’ request to speak with Dix. Instead, a ministry spokesperson has promised a statement.

The ministry statement said: “We know there is high demand across the province and the country for anesthesiologists. And we support ongoing recruiting and retention efforts at all health authorities.”

The statement pointed to money to reduce surgical wait times, and said it welcomes input from health professionals.

“As part of the strategy, Fraser Health developed the hip and knee surgery program at Abbotsford Regional Hospital in consultation with physicians. It was agreed the site had additional capacity and three additional operating rooms per week could be dedicated to the hip and knee program without taking away time from other surgeries.”

Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma also said doctors were involved in the planning process for the Abbotsford hip-and-knee-surgery program.

She said three-quarters of those surgeries are performed by Abbotsford doctors, and 61 per cent are done on Abbotsford residents.

Juma also said that it had been hoped that the hip-and-knee program would actually make Abbotsford more attractive to prospective anesthesiologists by increasing the amount of work that is available during the daytime. She said work continues on the recruitment and retention side.

“Everyone wants to make sure that patients are getting the best care possible.”

But while the authorities say local doctors were on board from the start, the cancer surgeon says that wasn’t the case when it came to “frontline surgeons,” who she said were never in support of the move.

“The original promise was that this extra joint time was not going to come at the expense of our local surgeons, but it doesn’t take much to see that this wasn’t true.”

Do you have something to add to this story, or something else we should report on? Email:
tolsen@abbynews.com


@ty_olsen
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Some cancer patients waiting longer for surgery as B.C. puts focus on hips, knees

Just Posted

Police in Nanaimo hope to find the owner of a Giant Reign mountain bike that was seized after a man was spotted riding it without a helmet on the wrong side of the road on Christmas Eve. (Photo submitted)
Nanaimo RCMP suspicious to find expensive bike covered in layer of duct tape

Police looking for owner of Giant Reign mountain bike that they believe was stolen

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker causes pain and damage at downtown Nanaimo gym

VIDEO: Suspect breaks fire alarm, slams door on business owner’s foot after attempting to defraud her

Scott Saywell, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ superintendent and CEO, has seen his contract renewed for four years, the district announced Wednesday. (SD68 YouTube screenshot)
Nanaimo school district renews superintendent’s contract for four years

‘Singing superintendent’ Scott Saywell under contract through 2024-25 school year

Cyclists pick up swag and cycling trail maps at city Bike to Work Week ‘celebration station’ a few years ago. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo’s active transportation plan will be about more than infrastructure

City working on goals to double walking trips and quintuple cycling and busing trips

Nanaimo RCMP seek public assistance after numerous tire slashings between Jan. 12-14. (News Bulletin file)
20 tires punctured in ‘slashing spree’ in Nanaimo

Nanaimo RCMP ask for any tips about Jan. 12-14 incidents in Country Club and Boxwood areas

Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the press theatre at the B.C. legislature for an update on COVID-19, Jan. 7, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 spread steady with 509 new cases Friday

Hospitalized and critical care cases decline, nine deaths

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza virually nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Lilly and Poppy, two cats owned by Kalmar Cat Hotel ownder Donna Goodenough, both have cerebellAr hypoplasia, a genetic neurological condition that affects their ability to control their muscles and bones. Photo by Alistair Taylor – Campbell River Mirror
VIDEO: Wobbly Cats a riot of flailing legs and paws but bundles of love and joy to their owner

Woman urges others to not fear adopting cats with disabilities

Dr. Shannon Waters, the medical health officer for the Cowichan Valley Region, is reminding people to stay the course with COVID-19 measures. (File photo)
‘Stay the course’ with COVID measures, Island Health reminds

Limit social activity, wash hands, wear a mask, and isolate if you feel sick

Cowichan Tribes members line up at a drive-up clinic on Wednesday, Jan. 13 to receive the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the region. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
BCAFN condems racism against Cowichan Tribes after COVID-19 outbreak

“Any one of us could do everything right and still catch the virus”: Regional Chief Terry Teegee.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s top doctor says to avoid non-essential travel as B.C. explores legal options

Premier John Horgan says he is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read