Patients who have endured excessive waits for surgery may get into the operating room faster this summer.
The province is injecting $10 million into the system to perform an extra 1000 surgeries province-wide in an effort to reduce wait times.
Orthopedic surgeries, cataracts, hernias, plastic surgeries and ear, nose and throat procedures will be eligible for accelerated treatment.
According to Northern Health’s chief operating officer Michael McMillan, two procedures have significantly longer wait times in the region – cataract and orthopedic surgeries. McMillan said Northern health will focus primarily on those two procedures.
“We still have people in our wait lists that have waited longer than 52 weeks [for cataract and orthopedic surgeries],” he said.
Northern Health’s plan to address surgery wait times includes looking at additional surgery capacity in private clinics; performing more procedures in smaller communities such as Quesnel and Vanderhoof; and improving efficiency to perform more surgeries out of the existing operating rooms.
“The first step is to get all of those people who have waited longer than 52 weeks and get them off the list, get their procedures done,” said McMillan. “Then we need to start moving down to have nobody waiting longer than 40 weeks; and eventually, a target of nobody waiting longer than 30 weeks.”
“We are incrementally getting better and making sure that we can match the demand with the resources available,” he added.
More than 50 of the province’s nearly 300 operating rooms are not regularly staffed, according to a health ministry discussion paper on surgical reform. The report said operating rooms are generally idle because health authorities have insufficient funds to run them, but in some cases they’re shuttered because of a lack of specialized staff such as anaesthetists or insufficient local demand.
Health minister Terry Lake said the $10 million provided by the province will open up extra operating room time in hospitals across the province, and in some cases it will be used to contract private clinics to perform extra day surgeries.
“Patients want to have their surgeries done,” Lake told reporters. “If the quality is there and if it reduces wait lists and it’s paid for and administered by the public system, I think British Columbians would agree with that approach.”
Just one per cent of surgeries in B.C. were performed by private clinics using public funds in 2013.
Further cash infusions for surgery increases are expected in the fall and early next year.
Along with the promised short-term relief, the province is also pursuing longer-range measures to make the surgical system more efficient.
Many family doctors often refer to the same heavily booked surgeon due to reputation or preference, while other surgeons are sometimes idle. Lake said one alternative may be to instead shift to a pool of surgeons where patients get assigned to the first one available.
Similarly, patients who face a long wait to get into their local hospital may be urged to instead get their surgery performed at another hospital an hour or so down the road where operating room time is going unused.
“For patients, it’s not as convenient perhaps,” Lake said. “But it is an opportunity to have their surgery done faster.”
More recruitment and training of anaesthetists and surgical nurses is also part of the long-range plan.
Although the province has increased the numbers of surgeries it performs over the years, demand has risen faster. Lake pointed to soaring demand for procedures such as hip replacements over the last 15 years as patients realize what recent medical advancements now offer them. Each year there are more seniors who are typically living longer lives.
“We know these surgeries are becoming the expectation for people who want to live a good quality of life and that is the demand we want to meet.”
–With files from Jeff Nagel