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BC patients are 'getting sicker and dying on our waitlists,' specialist doctors warn

Dozens of medical specialists have written to Health Minister Adrian Dix requesting an urgent meeting about the province’s “crumbling” health system.

In an open letter, the doctors plead with Dix to help bring down wait times for the estimated one million patients who need to see specialists.

“Patients are getting sicker and dying on our waitlists,” they explain.

Many of the doctors are based in the Lower Mainland, but the North, Island and Interior are also represented, including by orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Cassandra Lane Dielwart in Kelowna and respirologist Dr. Sharla-Rae Olsen in Prince George.

“Urgent primary care centres and emergency departments are overwhelmed and can’t provide immediate access to specialists,” the authors of the letter write.

<who> Photo credit: 123RF

“Increased admissions strain the already overburdened hospital system, and cost even more in both dollars and patient suffering.”

In response to the letter, a Ministry of Health spokesperson told NowMedia that they are aware of the plea from the doctors.

“We and specialists want to make sure that patients are able to access the care they need,” the spokesperson added. “We want to reassure people that we will always meet with doctors when they have concerns or suggestions on how to improve services.

“All doctors, including specialists, have avenues to have their concerns addressed, through Doctors of BC who represent them in talks with government. We continue to make progress on discussions around the Physician Master Agreement, and are grateful for the relationship we have with Doctors of BC.”

The specialists say in their letter that they are “exhausted and demoralized” by the “soul-destroying” experience of not being able to provide care to everyone who needs it.

The doctors also provide specific examples – from an “innumerable” list – of patients suffering due to long wait times, including:

  • A patient with sudden hearing loss who, if seen sooner, would not have suffered a permanent hearing impairment

  • A three-year-old with possible autism waiting more than 18 months for a formal assessment, while her “anxiety-ridden parents” are “left in limbo”

  • Patients in the Lower Mainland and on Vancouver Island with new cancer diagnoses waiting between two and three months for their first visit with an oncologist

The doctors say in their letter that they have been “hampered by years of increasing challenges,” which have been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They tell Dix: “If we do not work together to find solutions, specialty care in this province is going to erode even further.”

The letter concludes: “We request a meeting with you emergently, and that is not a word we use lightly.”

To read the letter in full, head here.

Send your comments, news tips, typos, letter to the editor, photos and videos to [email protected].

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