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

 

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

Just Posted

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Deb McDougall - photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Second dose vaccinations accelerating throughout region: Interior Health

To date, more than 675,000 doses have been administered throughout the region

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Most Read