'Listen to us': Kelowna surgeon among over 130 doctors calling for minister's acknowledgement healthcare is crumbling

Doctors: the system is falling

Health care specialists have signed a letter sent to B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix calling for attention to the crisis in specialty health care.

When the letter was published Wednesday, it was signed by 26 doctors, a number that has since climbed to more than 130.

That includes Kelowna's Dr. Cassandra Lane Dielwart, president British Columbia Orthopaedic Association.

"I think that number is just going to keep growing as we get the letter out there."

Castanet spoke with Dr. Dielwart while she was between surgeries.

"I think everybody feels the stress of the healthcare system right now. Like for me, right now, in between cases, I have two more to go and I don't even know if I'll get the last one because we don't have a cleaner."

Dr. Dielwart says not having a cleaner to clean the rooms is an example of the little things that are impacting the system, "so these are the things that we're struggling with all day, every day, from nursing to just not enough doctors around to the family doctor crisis. Every day, we're struggling in our healthcare system and it's time that people pay attention."

The letter says an estimated one million patients are waiting to see a specialist doctor in B.C. and asks for a meeting to discuss the issues and potential solutions.

"In some specialties, it'll be just not enough people. In other areas, it could be that it's too remote and a specialist can't get out there. There are so many different problems. I can't expect the health minister to know how to fix them all," Dr. Dielwart said.

"But listen to us, listen to the people doing the work, let's have a conversation, talk about what these problems are, and how we can best address them together."

As of Thursday, there has been no response from Dix, but this isn't the first letter Dr. Dielwart has sent. She wrote a similar letter about her area of expertise in the spring.

"No response. I had sent a letter, specifically around orthopaedics back in March, and there has been no meeting. So that's really why we elevated this to the next level."

Dr. Dielwart says those doctors who have signed the letter say their primary concern is patient safety.

An excerpt from the letter says, "long surgical wait times are the most widely known, but the crisis in wait times extends to the entire breadth of specialist care. Here are a few of the innumerable examples:

  • A patient with sudden hearing loss who if seen sooner wouldn’t have become permanently hearing impaired.
  • Over 16,000 people waiting for an echocardiogram in Vancouver Coastal Health alone.
  • Patients in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island with new cancer diagnoses waiting 2-3 months for their first visit with an oncologist.
  • A lone respirologist in Northern Health, unable to recruit partners, who has had to close her practice to less urgent referrals for the last two years just to catch up and continue seeing urgent cases, meanwhile patients have to travel hundreds of kilometers to see the next closest Specialist.
  • One of the few remaining dermatologists in Fraser Health getting crushed with 60 to 100 new referrals a day forced to limit accepting new referrals to only the most urgent cases.
  • Patients waiting on tenter-hooks for weeks for their lab results and surgical pathology because of lengthy backlogs in our labs.
  • A 3 year old with possible autism waiting more than 18 months for a formal assessment, while her anxiety-ridden parents are left in limbo with no support.
  • Interior BC patients forced to travel hundreds of kilometers just to obtain simple x-rays because local wait-times are untenable.

Dr. Dielwart says she hopes this move will catch the minister's attention.

"First would be an acknowledgement from the healthcare minister to say 'yeah, the health system is crumbling.' Anytime we sound the alarm, it really does seem like there's a lot of defence about all the good things. And of course, there are good things that have happened. But you also have to admit where we're struggling. Without actually acknowledging that the healthcare system is in a crisis, how do you change it?"

"But the the problem is so deep. You can't throw a bunch of money at a broken system. That's how really how I feel, I feel like you actually have to work together to say, how do we actually change this?"

Dr. Dielwart says these issues didn't start with COVID-19 and the solutions will take time and effort from health care professionals and politicians.

"We've been struggling with this in Canada for many, many, many, many years. If you look at the estimated one million people on a wait list to see specialists, all those numbers are people waiting for answers. These are people and we need to start paying attention to them."

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