Government’s $10-million strategy to expand access and increase number of surgeries



THE Government of B.C. is investing an additional $10 million to increase surgical capacity throughout the province this year, including increasing surgical slates in the coming months for patients who have waited more than 40 weeks for surgery.

“I understand that waiting for surgery is frustrating, and the solution is more than just funding,” said Health Minister Terry Lake on Monday. “We are working to improve wait times for surgery and better manage surgical wait lists as part of our overarching strategy to create a sustainable health system that supports people to stay healthy – while providing high-quality, publicly funded health care services that meet their needs when they are sick.”

This first phase of the surgical services strategy is focused on patients waiting the longest. Health authorities will begin increasing surgeries over the summer, and complete up to 1,000 extra surgeries throughout the province from June to August. This will include surgeries for orthopaedics, hernias, ear, nose and throat, cataracts and plastics. Further increases to capacity will be introduced in the fall and continue through March 2016.

The new one-time funding is part of B.C.’s strategy on surgical services, focused on patient-centred quality care, which aims to address increasing demand. While the total number of surgeries done in B.C. has increased 33% over the last 12 years, health authorities are seeing unprecedented demand and increasing wait times.

“The Ministry of Health identified new strategic priorities for the health system last year, and improving surgical waits is a key pillar in this work,” said Lake. “As part of this long-term strategy to modernize the health care system, we have been consulting with health authorities, care providers and a wide range of stakeholders about our policy paper on surgical services that was released in February 2015.”

Health authorities are working with the Ministry of Health on short- and long-term plans that align with this strategy. As part of the short-term actions, health authorities will use the additional funding to improve access by adding operating room slates, contracting with private sector surgical sites, or a combination. All surgeries will be publicly funded.

The Provincial Surgery Executive Committee is working on systemic, long-term solutions proposed in the policy paper to improve surgical care. This includes modernizing surgery booking to provide surgeons, patients, health authorities and referring physicians with better information about who is waiting for surgery and how urgent the procedure is, as well as standardizing care practices and how surgeries are prioritized. It includes a robust health human resources strategy, ensuring that B.C. is training and recruiting the health professionals needed to deal with the demands of an active, aging population, in particular anaesthetists and surgical nurses.

The policy paper also supports alternative practice models, such as team-based physician practices that share referrals to the first available surgeon, multidisciplinary teams that include physicians, nurses and other allied health care workers, and increased use of contracted surgical services. In addition, work will focus on optimizing health authorities’ surgical infrastructure, improving coordination and patient flow, and getting better value by group purchasing surgical supplies amongst health authorities.