Specialists from cardiologists to pediatricians and orthopedic surgeons are pressing the British Columbia government to reduce backlogs of worsening wait times.
The head of the Canadian Medical Association’s stance comes as it’s time for innovative solutions to tackle the same problem across the country.
Twenty-six doctors sent an open letter to Health Minister Adrian Dix on Wednesday, saying they wanted an urgent meeting with him because they were “tired and frustrated” by the “collapsing” health care system.
As of Thursday, 135 experts had signed the letter, which was uploaded to BC’s website Consultant Specialists.
“Patients are getting sicker and dying on our waiting lists,” the letter says, detailing examples of the impact on patients, including one who suffered sudden hearing loss and lost their hearing permanently after waiting too long to see a specialist.
Based on data from BC Consultant Specialists, which surveyed members in August, it says there are over one million patients in BC waiting to be seen.
Dr. Chris Hogue, a North Vancouver urologist who signed the letter, said a broad base of professionals is rallying to pressure the government to act because they are burned out trying to see more patients with the illness.
“I do everything I can to keep that expectation as low as possible. But you know, there are times when I have a huge number of patients waiting for cancer surgery and I can’t sleep because I don’t know how I’m going to get them done in time. “
Unlike family physicians, who recently received $118 million in temporary funding to offset overhead costs, specialists who run small business practices have nothing, Hogue said.
“It’s heartbreaking for professionals to see that the conversation isn’t happening about the same issue shared in specialty care,” said Hogue, president of BC Consultant Specialists.
“Primary care is an absolute disaster and absolutely needs to be addressed,” Hogue said of the shortage of family doctors, which delays referrals to specialists, worsening patients’ conditions until they end up in the emergency room.
“Then they’re taking up hospital beds, which is taking away from surgical procedures, because we don’t have anywhere to move the patient out of (the operating room), so we can’t do surgery. So, it’s a huge domino effect, it’s happening not just for primary care issues.
Patients with a general practitioner are also on wait-lists for an average of 10 months and sometimes up to two years, he said.
Hogue said Dix did not respond to the letter.
The health ministry said the minister was not available for an interview, but it provided a written statement.
All doctors, including specialists, have avenues to resolve their concerns through BC Doctors, the association that represents them in negotiations with the government, the statement said.
BC Doctors is currently negotiating with the government on behalf of all doctors over the so-called Physician Master Agreement, which expired in March, but says the needs of specialists are beyond its scope and cannot be addressed through compensation.
“Instead, addressing specialist wait-lists in many cases can only be achieved by improving resources such as health authority infrastructure, processes and increasing (operating room) time,” it said in a written statement.
“We intend to advocate purely specialist issues and work with BC’s consulting specialists and various specialty departments,” the association said, adding that its board will decide when that will happen.
Canadian Medical Association President Dr. Alika Lafontaine said professionals in all provinces and territories are dealing with a “mass crisis” as millions of patients await their services.
“Primary care and specialty care are overwhelmed at the same time,” added the letter from experts in BC, citing major, unprecedented problems with multiple issues such as overcrowded and closed emergency rooms in various jurisdictions due to nurse shortages. and other health care providers.
“These kinds of letters aren’t going out, even mid-pandemic,” LaFontaine said of the pressure facing health care providers.
“There’s a human cost to patients, but there’s also a human cost to providers working day after day with these high levels of tension.”
LaFontaine said collaboration between provinces and territories is needed to find innovative solutions like more virtual and team-based care, not just more requests for funding, which has increased across all jurisdictions.
“I don’t think many provinces are leaning towards team-based care, making sure care is delivered to the right people at the right time and in the right place,” he said.
“Places that reduce the administrative burden on physicians are certainly creating more time for physicians to provide care,” he said, adding that physicians have to repeatedly submit information to multiple regulatory agencies.
Lafontaine called for an emergency meeting between the federal, provincial and territorial governments to create a long-term, sustainable system.
The association will gather this fall with other advocacy groups, including the Canadian Nurses Association and patient advocacy groups, to discuss how best to address similar needs, he said.
This report was originally published by The Canadian Press on September 22, 2022.
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