British Columbia’s health minister is responding to bombshell allegations from a longtime emergency room doctor about the “crisis” at Surrey Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Urbain Ip, now a clinical assistant professor at UBC’s Department of Emergency Medicine and the former medical director at Surrey Memorial, told Global News Tuesday he wouldn’t send his own family members to the facility.
Ip said patients could wait 48 to 72 hours before getting proper care due to a shortage of hospitalists — doctors who admit patients to the hospital’s wards.
Surrey Memorial ER Doctor speaks out
And he alleged Fraser Health had actively worked to prevent doctors from going public with concerns.
“We tried to design a poster to put in the waiting room to tell patients we are having resource problems, so today there might be delays seeing you but if you have a heart attack, you have a really critical illness, but those minor things you might have to have a longer delay,” he said.
“Fraser Health, they didn’t want us to have that, they pulled the poster down.”
On Wednesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix disputed allegations that doctors are being prevented from sharing their concerns.
“There is no restraint on people speaking out at Surrey Memorial Hospital or anything else. That no-restraint is protected in regulation,” Dix said.
“I think doctors have expressed their concerns very strongly, at Surrey Memorial Hospital and elsewhere. I spoke to doctors who expressed it directly to me last week in a public forum.”
Surrey doctor speaks out about ‘crisis’ at Surrey Memorial
In another troubling allegation, Ip said a doctor who tried to document delays in treating a patient on their chart because of a lack of hospitalists was reprimanded by superiors.
“So they want to record in the chart to protect themselves and now they’re being investigated,” he said. “No wonder people are worried that their job might be at stake.”
Dix declined to speak to that allegation, but said that there are mechanisms in place for health-care workers to address such personnel issues.
Officials with Fraser Health were not available for an interview about the situation. However, the health authority maintains there have been no deaths related to delays.
ER doctors, however, say that can’t be confirmed if such delays aren’t being recorded.
B.C. health minister promises changes in Surrey
Ip’s comments followed an open letter from doctors at the hospital warning of “unsafe conditions” amid emergency room congestion and a shortage of admitting hospitalists.
Dix said that the province has tabled a contract offer to hospitalists, and that negotiations were ongoing in a bid to address their concerns and reach a deal.
But addressing the issues plaguing B.C.’s emergency rooms will take more than one solution, according to the president of Doctors of BC.
“If the solution was easy, it would be done already,” Dr. Joshua Greggain said.
Surrey Memorial doctors warn of ER crisis
Greggain said the pressure being felt at Surrey’s ER and others around the province is a symptom of bigger problems throughout the primary care system.
A shortage of family doctors, issues with long-term care and the twin crises of mental health and addictions all result in people presenting at the emergency room when they don’t get care elsewhere, he said.
“The emergency room is really the canary in the coal mine, and so the issue is not just singular in its cause, but there are a multitude of causes that have been breeding for many, many years now,” he said.
Greggain said he was optimistic those challenges could be overcome, but to do so would require an acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation — an acknowledgement he said many doctors feel the province and health authorities haven’t made publicly.
“These are people who have dedicated their lives to helping people through medical issues and they feel such desperation they speak out, even when they risk consequences for that,” BC United health critic Shirley Bond told Global News.
Surrey Memorial Hospital doctors say conditions are unsafe
“This is not a new issue, and we’ve heard about emergency room challenges all across British Columbia — we’ve head it from doctors, specialists, we’ve heard it from nurses repeatedly. We need to make sure we are looking at an urgent response.”
Bond said the NDP government needs to do more to expedite credentials for internationally trained medical graduates, look at the concept of physicians assistants and make good on its promise to open a medical school in Surrey.
B.C. Premier David Eby insisted Wednesday that the issue remained “critically important” to his government.
“Coming out of the pandemic we’ve seen huge strains in our hospital system. It’s not just in Surrey, it’s not just in B.C — in fact, it’s across Canada,” he said.
“Here in B.C. we are making some traction on it, we are leading the country on the recruitment and credential recognition of internationally-trained nurses, for example. We need to get more bodies into our hospitals to provide that support, more skilled workers, and this is one key short-term response.”
But in the meantime, there appears to be no immediate solutions at B.C.’s busiest emergency room in Surrey Memorial Hospital.
That’s left doctors on the ground facing what feels like an impossible job, according to Ip.
“Some of them probably can’t even sleep, because they know four or five patients they admitted will not be seen,” he said.
“That’s a terrible scenario. And the morale of this group of physicians is right on the bottom right now.”
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