Dr. Cassandra Lane Dielwart performs surgery.
Health care specialists have signed a letter sent to BC Health Minister 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 increased to more than 130.
That includes Kelowna’s Dr. Cassandra Lane Dielwart, President of the British Columbia Orthopedic 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 operations.
“I think everyone is feeling the stress of the health care system right now. Right now, between cases, I have two more left 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 affect the system, “so those are the things that we struggle with all day, every day, from nursing to just not enough doctors around to the family doctor crisis. Every day we struggle in our health care system, and it’s time for people to pay attention.”
The letter says an estimated one million patients are waiting to see a specialist in BC and is asking for a meeting to discuss the problems and potential solutions.
“In some specialties, there just won’t be enough people. In other areas, it might 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 Minister of Health to know, how to fix them all,” said Dr. Dielwart.
“But listen to us, listen to the people who are doing the work, let’s have a conversation, talk about what these problems are and how we can best solve them together.”
As of Thursday, there has been no response from Dix, but this is not the first letter Dr. Dielwart has sent. She wrote a similar letter about her area of expertise this spring.
“No response. I had sent a letter specifically about orthopedics back in March and there has been no meeting. So that’s really why we took this to the next level.”
Dr. Dielwart says the doctors who signed the letter say their primary concern is patient safety.
An excerpt of the letter says, “long surgical waits are the most well-known, but the crisis in waiting times extends to the entire breadth of specialist care. Here are a few of the countless examples:
- A patient with sudden hearing loss who, if seen earlier, would not have become permanently hearing impaired.
- Over 16,000 people are waiting for an echocardiogram at Vancouver Coastal Health alone.
- Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island patients with new cancer diagnoses waiting 2-3 months for their first oncologist visit.
- A lone respirologist at Northern Health, unable to recruit partners, has had to close his practice to less urgent referrals for the past two years just to catch up and continue to see acute cases, meanwhile patients have to travel hundreds of kilometers to see the next nearest specialist.
- One of the few remaining dermatologists in Fraser Health, overwhelmed with 60 to 100 new referrals a day, was forced to limit accepting new referrals to only the most urgent cases.
- Patients waiting on hooks for weeks for their lab results and surgical pathology due to long backlogs in our labs.
- A 3-year-old with possible autism has been waiting more than 18 months for a formal assessment, while her anxiety-stricken parents are left in limbo without support.
- Internal BC patients are forced to travel hundreds of kilometers just to get simple x-rays because local wait times are unsustainable.
Dr. Dielwart says she hopes this move will catch the minister’s attention.
“First would be an acknowledgment from the health minister to say ‘yes, the health system is crumbling’.” Whenever we sound the alarm, it really seems like there is a lot of defense about all the good stuff. And of course there are good things that have happened. But you also have to admit where we struggle. Without actually recognizing that the healthcare system is in crisis, how do you change it?”
“But the problem is so deep. You can’t throw a lot of money at a broken system. That’s how I really feel, I feel like you have to actually work together to say, how do we change this?”
Dr. Dielwart says these problems didn’t start with COVID-19, and the solutions will take time and effort from health 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 waiting list to see specialists, all of those numbers are people waiting for answers. These are people and we have to start paying attention to them.”