New numbers from the provincial ministry of health show Vancouver Island hospitals as having the longest wait times for scheduled surgeries in the province.
Island Health administrators are blaming the numbers on a current shortage of anesthesiologists, a problem they are currently tackling and hope to have solved by the fall.
“This is one of our top priorities,” said J. Paul Whelan, chief of surgery for Island Health. “We really spend a great deal of our time working on this particular issue.”
The two main benchmarks the province uses to gauge surgical waits is how long it takes to complete 50 per cent of cases and 90 per cent of cases in each hospital, specialty or region.
From January 1 to March 31, 2014, Greater Victoria hospitals (Victoria General Hospital and Royal Jubilee Hospital) showed an average wait time of eight weeks for 50 per cent of surgeries and 34.9 weeks for 90 per cent of surgeries.
This is compared to the provincial average of 6 weeks for 50 per cent of surgeries and 28.3 weeks for 90 per cent.
Vancouver Island in general saw 50 per cent of surgeries completed in 7.3 weeks and 90 per cent completed in 33.1, well above the provincial average and the worst for a health authority in B.C.
Island Health spokesperson Sarah Plank said normally there are 35 full-time equivalent anesthesiologists working within Island Health, whereas since last summer the health authority has been down to 31.
This shortage, due to retirements and illnesses, is causing a five to 10 per cent increase in wait times.
“An anesthesiologist probably participates in surgery on five patients a day, five times a week, plus the on-call,” Whelan said. “Each anesthesiologist is probably involved in 1,000 surgeries a year, so it’s a huge impact when we lose (one).”
Three new anesthesiologists have been recruited and are set to start working in September of this year. A further three recruitments are being sought and Whelan said once the six are working the wait times should drop significantly.
Whelan pointed out these numbers do not include emergency surgeries, which can often cause scheduled surgeries to be postponed, due to a lack of resources.
An aging population also comes into play, as increasing numbers of people are requiring elective surgeries. With people living longer there are increasing numbers of joint replacements and other age-related surgeries.
Varicose vein surgeries, for instance, have the longest wait times of any surgeries for Victoria-area hospitals, with 50 per cent of cases completed in 147 weeks and 90 per cent completed in 228.7 weeks, well above provincial averages.
Vascular surgeons are also in demand; there are only four for all of Vancouver Island, contributing to the substantial wait times. Those who are available are often held up doing emergency surgeries for aneurisms and clots.
The recruitment of a fifth surgeon is being considered, Whelan said, which would improve those weight times also.
“The quality of the work that’s done in this area, the South Island, is outstanding and I think really the access piece, improving the wait times, is our key priority,” Whelan said. “I really am very excited about some of the things we’re going to be doing in terms of improving access, improving capacity and getting our anaesthesia group up to speed.”