B.C. government reducing Parkinson’s surgery wait times but patients still waiting for consultations

More Parkinson’s surgeries available, but still not enough
One year after the B.C. government promised to increase access to deep brain stimulation, more surgeries are being done. But as Richard Zussman explains, advocates say it's still not enough.

The B.C. government has hit its target of more than doubling Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) treatments for Parkinson’s disease even though wait times to receive a consultation remain long.

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced a year ago the province was increasing funding for the life-altering surgery.

In the last year doctors have performed 72 surgeries up from 31 a year ago.

“It has really allowed us to more than double the number of cases that can be done in a year. What that has allowed us to do is to treat more patients and patients are moving through the system more quickly,” Dr. Gary Redekop, a Vancouver General Hospital neurosurgeon, said.

“In the past, a significant bottleneck has just been the wait time for surgery. Not only are we now keeping up we are actually decreasing the waiting for surgery.”

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READ MORE: People with Parkinson’s disease set to receive better deep brain stimulation access

The increase in surgeries has drastically reduced the wait time for patients from when they are chosen for the surgery to when they receive it. The wait is down from an average wait of 53 weeks to an average wait of 40 weeks.

The surgery wait time is also expected to go down. Health Minister Adrian Dix says because of the commitment to the surgery there are now more people getting surgery than are being added to the surgery list.

Boxing classes help improve quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s disease
Boxing classes help improve quality of life for people living with Parkinson’s disease

“I believe wait lists will continue to go down but more important than that more people are going to get the procedure,” Dix said.

“We know that can’t help everyone but there are a group of people who are suffering from Parkinson’s who are really assisted by this surgery. This is an extraordinary change. People fought hard for and I’m proud we were able to deliver.”

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DBS is a surgical procedure using electrical impulses to stimulate a target area in the brain. Surgery is required to implant the equipment.

“If we choose the correct patient we can make a tremendous difference. We can put people back to work. We can keep people out of the emergency department. We can make more disabled people independent,” UBC neurosurgeon Dr. Christopher Honey said.

More access to deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s patients
More access to deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s patients

But when it comes to getting a consultation, potential patients are waiting up to four years to see the doctor. The province does not have enough surgeons to do the consultation and is looking to hire another one.

Mark Hutchinson’s wife Angela has been waiting four months for a consultation.

“The waits aren’t going down. They are actually going the other way. Instead of the list being a couple of years to get a consult they are now three-and-a-half to four years,” Hutchinson said.

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“Having DBS for my wife will be a life-changing. All the experts say it could give her back five years of her life. It will really be life-giving for her.”