Surrey Memorial Hospital doctors pen letter warning of ‘unsafe conditions’

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Surrey Memorial Hospital doctors say conditions are unsafe
WATCH: More than two dozen doctors at Surrey Memorial Hospital have signed a scathing open letter saying conditions at the hospital are unsafe, and their warnings are being ignored. Aaron McArthur reports. – May 15, 2023

Dozens of emergency room doctors at B.C.’s Surrey Memorial Hospital have penned an open letter warning of “unsafe conditions” at the facility.

The letter, made public Monday, goes on to say health leadership and elected officials have failed to communicate the state of the “crisis to patients and the public.”

“Our Minister of Health is correct in stating that conditions are ‘challenging,’ however an important point is missing: Patients are suffering severe adverse outcomes including death at Surrey Memorial Hospital,” the letter states.

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In the letter, the doctors lay out three key concerns, the first of which is a shortage of beds, leading to congested emergency rooms.

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That shortage has left patients waiting in the ER rather than the proper ward, taking up beds and nursing support meant for incoming emergencies, it says.

“This bed-block forces us to routinely treat strokes, heart attacks, traumas, miscarriages and palliative patients in the hallway,” the letter states.

“We care for vulnerable patients in waiting rooms, corridors and unmonitored treatment zones, often for days,” it adds, describing the situation as “completely unacceptable” and getting worse.

The letter says Fraser Health is also facing a “dire shortage” of hospitalist physicians, whose job is to admit patients from the ER to hospital wards.

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That shortage has left people waiting days without the attention of an admitting physician.

“Many patients have suffered, and some have died while waiting,” it states. “We believe that some of these horrible outcomes could have been prevented if Hospitalist Physicians were available to see patients in a timely manner.”

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Finally, the doctors say B.C.’s elected officials have “failed to provide any meaningful solutions” to change the daily reality for doctors on the ground, adding the hospitalist shortage was foreseen in 2022.

“We have been repeatedly sounding the alarm to our regional and provincial leaders; these alarms have been ignored,” the letter states. “Fraser Health has repeatedly told emergency room Physicians to not openly discuss our ‘challenges’ with the public.”

The letter came in response to a press release issued by Doctors of BC last week, after a doctor at Langley Memorial Hospital emailed other doctors asking them not to refer patients to the facility because it was “overrun with patients” and near collapse.

In the release, Doctors of BC said the “crisis” was being experienced provincewide, and called for urgent action from the province.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix responded to the letter Monday, touting his government’s hiring of 38,000 net new health-care workers since 2017, and efforts to recruit more family doctors into the primary care system.

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He said the province was “actively working” with hospitalists at hospitals across Fraser Health to address the issues they’ve raised and, in some cases, to sign new contracts addressing them.

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“We’re going to work with doctors and the issues in Fraser Health and with hospitalists and ER doctors in Surrey and Langley. We’re going to deal with it the same way we dealt with primary care, the same way we’ve made significant progress with nursing — progress that is regarded as leading the country,” Dix said.

Dix went on to note Fraser Health is the fastest-growing region in the province, and to peg some of the blame for conditions on the previous BC Liberal government, who he said had not invested in new hospital construction.

He pointed to the NDP government’s work to expand hospitals in Burnaby and New Westminster and the planned construction of a new Surrey hospital as efforts to address that deficit.

Dix said he had spoken with ER doctors and hospitalists on Friday and that the province has a proposal on the table “and we’re looking forward to that getting resolved, and us providing all the supports needed at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

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