Dozens of B.C. surgeries postponed due to shortage of key operating room specialists

Click to play video: 'B.C. perfusionist shortage delays surgeries'
B.C. perfusionist shortage delays surgeries
WATCH: Health Minister Adrian Dix is acknowledging that some heart procedures have had to be postponed due to a shortage of cardiovascular perfusionists across the province. These are the specialists who operate heart-lung machines facing a concerning shortage in B.C. Aaron McArthur reports. – Apr 12, 2024

B.C.’s health minister says he’s aware of a shortage of medical specialists crucial to keeping the province’s operating rooms running.

Cardiovascular perfusionists perform a key, but often overlooked role. Their job is to operate the heart-lung machine that keeps a patient alive during open-heart surgery or any other procedure that requires a patient’s respiratory and circulatory system to be supported.

The staffing crunch has led health officials to postpone dozens of surgeries.

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Between Jan. 1 and April 12, 70 cardiac cases saw postponement in Vancouver alone, according to Vancouver Coastal Health.

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“I am always concerned when there are concerned with health human resources,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

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“It’s essential to the health system and everyone who requires cardiac care.”

The Health Sciences Association, which represents B.C. perfusionists, is deeply concerned about the shortage.

The specialist position is in high demand everywhere in North America, and jurisdictions across the continent are in a battle to recruit them. British Columbia’s high cost of living and comparatively lower pay than some competing markets further compound the problem.

“We have raised these concerns with the provincial government and are currently engaged in discussions,”  HSA president Kane Tse told Global News in a statement.

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“We are hopeful that solutions can be found to provide support for the overworked staff on the front lines, and for the many people who depend on their expert care.”

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Dix told Global News Thursday there had been “very few” cancellations due to the shortage, but acknowledged “one is too many.’

He said the province has increased the number of B.C. training spaces for perfusionists from seven to 10 and is also working on steps to retain those already working in the field.

Vancouver Coastal Health said it is also looking at a variety of measures to address the staffing problem, including targeted recruitment and “reviewing wage rates, where appropriate.”

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