The Health Minister of British Columbia, Adrian Dix, has declared the rising patient demand in the province’s emergency rooms a potential “new normal”. This is especially distressing as the province is on the brink of the respiratory illness season, and the expected respite for medical personnel during the summer did not occur this year.
In a statement during his visit to Surrey Memorial Hospital, Dix advised that approximately 9,700 patients currently occupy emergency care facilities across B.C. This number indicates a surge of 700 individuals over the norm for this period. Traditionally, patient numbers fall below 9,000 during the summer months, a trend that was absent this year.
“We’re carrying out more surgeries than ever, more primary care visits than ever, more diagnostic procedures than ever,” said Dix. “We have more people in hospitals than ever, and we have more employees in the healthcare system than before. This escalating demand is the new norm, and it is our responsibility to address it.”
Minister Dix spoke in Surrey Memorial Hospital after meeting doctors to give an update on 30 B.C. governmental initiatives designed to alleviate Fraser Health region’s overcrowding that was announced back in June.
Earlier this year, Surrey Memorial’s Medical Staff Association, in an open letter to the hospital management, criticized their “absence of tangible support” for the stressed emergency-room doctors. They stated that this neglect poses a risk to the health of Surrey residents.
Several doctors and allied health workers, part of the advocacy group BC Health Care Matters, have mooted plans to demonstrate at Surrey City Hall to seek additional action. While unable to be present, Dix assured that their voices would be heard.
In an official statement, Fraser Health disclosed that the update from Dix included progress in handling overcrowding through the filling of more than 216 vacancies at Surrey Memorial since June. The hospital is currently seeking to fill an additional 64 positions. Included in the new hires are 39 foreign-educated nurses.
Other improvements include the introduction of patient ambassadors assigned to welcome and assist patients, and the doubling of bed capacity for internal medicine, from 30 to 60.
During his discussion with physicians on Friday, Dix acknowledged that while they appreciate the progress, they are demanding more—a demand that the NDP government is committed to meeting.
“We have an extraordinary and unprecedented level of activity in our health care system,” he stated. The Health Minister attributed the current crisis to “a generation” of negligence by Fraser Health, which became more visible with the rapid growth of Surrey’s population. He laid blame on the liberal administration for its past failures, including the controversial decision to sell off land designated for a new Surrey hospital at a time now a decade past.
NDP’s Opposition, BC United’s MLA Shirley Bond, alleged that Dix is trying to avoid taking responsibility for a situation she believes was created under NDP’s governance. Bond argued that her own party, formerly known as the BC Liberals, had made sizeable investments in healthcare facilities.
Even so, she conceded that there is a pressing need for improvements in certain areas – particularly faster credentialing for medical graduates trained overseas.