November 30, 2023

Healthcare Global

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‘Things are going to get worse before they get better’ warns B.C. ER doctor

A B.C. emergency room doctor is adding his voice to those warning the province’s health-care problems stretch far beyond Surrey Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Anthony Fong works out of Vancouver, but frequently takes locum positions to cover needed shifts in hospitals out of the region — a call he says he’s getting more and more frequently.

“I receive a request probably every day or every couple of days to work in an emergency room elsewhere in the province or in Canada,” he told Global News.

“Things in rural Canada have always been tight with health-care resources. What I have noticed that has been new (is) the shift of the need to not only encompass rural sites, but now it’s also starting to involve the small urban sites as well as even the urban sites.”

Click to play video: 'Surrey Memorial Hospital expansion among measures to relieve emergency room overcrowding'

Surrey Memorial Hospital expansion among measures to relieve emergency room overcrowding

The problems underlying the shortages are complex, Fong said, and likely to get worse before they get better.

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They’re also being compounded by front-line burnout, summer holidays and seasonal travel patterns that can see populations swell in small communities with limited health resources.

“People are already starting to go public with their terrible patient experiences in the emergency room,” he said of what “worse” looks like, pointing to long ER waits and bad outcomes.

“People are suffering, and it’s not only rural sites anymore.”

Doctors of B.C. president Dr. Josh Greggain said Fong’s experience is not unique.

“I think if a doctor walked into a hospital right now, any hospital, and said ‘I will take a shift,’ they will not be turned away,” he told Global News.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says emergency room doctors face a unique challenge to balance the issues in the entire system, including long-term care, and he is committed to solving those problems.

Click to play video: 'Surrey Memorial doctors want action'

Surrey Memorial doctors want action

“All of the problems in the health-care system end up in emergency and they are doing great work there and everywhere else,” he said.

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In the short term, Fong said the province needs to focus serious resources on retention, ensuring health-care workers are well paid and have reasonable staff-to-patient ratios to make sure they aren’t burning out.

And there may be some relief in sight. The latest round of resident doctors will be on the job starting July 1.

“We hope for some enthusiasm, for the young relatively-newly trained physician who is just excited to pick up extra shifts, who is excited to be there,” Greggain said.

It’s the kind of injection of energy that could help doctors like Fong, who have been increasingly stretched, get a little bit of a break.

“It’s very difficult because everything is marked urgent, every single day you’re getting emails about urgent situations here and there … and you just can’t say yes to everything,” he said. “It’s distressing.”

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