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

 

Just Posted

Four staff members at the Okanagan Men’s Centre have tested positive for COVID-19 since Oct. 23, 2020. (Adult and Teen Challenge OMC photo)
Four positive COVID-19 cases at Okanagan Men’s Centre

Those affected are staff and have been in isolation since Oct. 23

The Physicians of Golden are recommending to follow BC Centre for Disease Control guidelines this weekend and to have a safe Halloween celebration. (Physicians of Golden photo)
Physicians of Golden back up BC CDC Halloween guidelines

There’s a couple tips for how to safely celebrate Halloween at home

The intersection of Highway 95 and Park Drive is currently under construction as a part of this project. (Claire Palmer photo)
Traffic pattern changes and construction on Highway 95 in Golden

The work is a part of preliminary work for the final phase of the Kicking Horse Canyon Project

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort will be looking to crack the Top 10 Ski Resorts list by USA Today for the second straight year. (Claire Palmer photo)
Kicking Horse tapped as one of North America’s favourite ski resorts

The resort finished in tenth in the same poll last year

The Golden Food Bank will host its third annual Trick or Eat fundraiser this Halloween. The food bank has experienced a rise in clients since the onset of the pandemic. (File photo)
Golden Food Bank to hold third annual Trick or Eat fundraiser

The fundraiser will look a bit different from years past as the event is adjusted for COVID protocal

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A Tuesday Oct. 27, 2020 apartment fire in Penticton killed two and displaced dozens more. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Fatal Penticton apartment fire deemed accidental

The blaze gutted an apartment building on Tuesday morning, killing two people and displacing dozens

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports seven more COVID-19 cases

Eighty-nine cases remain active, none of whom are currently hospitalized

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

This Photoshopped version of the crosswalks near the entrance to the Salmon Arm Arts Centre on Hudson Avenue show what is proposed to help create safety for and show inclusivity to the LGBTQ2S+ community. (Salmon Arm Arts Centre image)
Tri-rainbow crosswalk and Progress flag requested to help make Salmon Arm safe

Council will consider budget requests to help make city inclusive to LBGTQ2S+ community

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Animal care manager Tracy Reynolds confirmed the lynx is the same wildcat that was spotted wandering North Kamloops in broad daylight on Sunday, Oct. 25. BC Wildlife Park.
Lynx found wandering Kamloops taken to BC Wildlife Park

While the lynx’s outward appearance was deemed normal, it actually had an abdominal infection

Wild Tiger
AlleyCats Okanagan: Pet of the week

Meet two lovely felines looking for their forever homes

Most Read