Northern Health working to avoid repeat in surgeon service gap

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Erica Fisher

Erica is a reporter for Moose FM and in Fort St. John, B.C. She grew up in Victoria, B.C. and received her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec.

“It’s not ideal where we have this week-long window where we have no surgical coverage, and that’s not normal; that’s not something we want to plan for again and we are actually working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

In northeast B.C., there are two surgeons stationed in Fort St. John and a third in Dawson Creek that provide emergency service to the hospitals. All three being gone doesn’t affect scheduled and elective surgeries, but does mean someone who attends the emergency room in need of emergency surgery like an appendectomy might have to be transported elsewhere. 

Northern Health’s Vice President of Medicine will be working with the doctors to ensure better communication and coordination. 

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“That shouldn’t happen; we work hard to make sure it doesn’t,” Raper maintains. “We’re going to identify why that did happen, and how we prevent that from happening again.” 

However, Raper argues that many communities in the province aren’t covered by surgeons, and that Northern Health has a patient transport network to deal with that issue. He adds that even when a surgeon is available, emergencies surgeries are often transported out of town anyways. 

“So when we don’t have the surgeon coverage for this particular window like we do, it may not affect anybody… because we may not have any emergency surgeries, and then the ones that we get could potentially have been transferred anyways.” 

Although the situation is rare, Raper says it’s likely happened before, but not for an entire week. The fact that a week-long gap occurred this time has “shone a light” on the problem with scheduling. If an emergency surgery is necessary before a surgeon returns next week, and the situation can’t wait, Raper says the B.C. Ambulance system and patient transport network will be activated to move them to another facility. 

Northeast B.C. has had three surgeons covering emergencies for some time now, and although one is considering moving away, Northern Health says it is already in talks with someone interested in replacing them.

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