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

Questions around rail safety, firefighter safety, cleanup near the rail yards and tracks, whistle cessation, etc were raised during the RDBN meeting with CN. (File photo)
‘Lot of our concerns are still not being heard,’ say RDBN directors on CN’s response

Frustrated over lack of solutions, despite communicating their concerns to CN

Barbara Patrick. (Submitted/Lakes District News)
Former Burns Lake local to play the first Indigenous character in a Hallmark movie

Barbara Patrick, a former LDSS student takes a huge step for the Indigenous community

The Burns Lake RCMP is supportive of having a ticketing bylaw in place even though there would be limitations on what they could ticket on. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Burns Lake might be getting a ticketing bylaw

Will help extend RCMP’s authority to attend to noise complaints

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

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

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

The grey region of this chart shows the growth of untraced infection, due to lack of information on potential sources. With added staff and reorganization, the gap is stabilized, Dr. Bonnie Henry says. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 tracing to keep up with surging cases

People now notified of test results by text message

Most Read