Group demands audit of surgery wait lists
B.C. Health Coalition says Ministry of Health must determine whether private clinics result in longer than necessary wait lists at public hospitals A coalition of Medicare advocates wants the Ministry of Health to conduct an audit of surgery waiting lists in fields that have attracted private clinics such as orthopedics and ophthalmology. The B.C. Health Coalition is concerned that waiting lists for procedures such as knee and cataract surgery are unnecessarily long because surgeons are dividing their time between public hospitals and private clinics. "Nobody knows what effect the rapid expansion of for-profit laser eye clinics and orthopedic surgical centres has had on the length of waiting lists in our public hospitals," says health policy analyst and Coalition spokesperson Colleen Fuller. "But a quick survey of wait lists in B.C. suggests that British Columbians are waiting longer than they need to for some surgeries because of the growth of privately-operated surgical clinics." For example, the surgeon who operated on a Prince George womanís knee at a Vancouver private clinic for a facility fee paid through a third-party maintains a waiting list for day surgery at St. Paul's Hospital of 50.1 weeks. The median wait for all orthopedic surgery in the province is 7.1 weeks. The Prince George woman was operated on by the surgeon within two weeks at the private clinic, according to news reports. And Brian Day, an outspoken supporter of expanded private health care and an orthopedic surgeon at the privately operated Cambie Surgical Centre, maintains a wait list at UBC Hospital of 55.4 weeks for day surgery. Median wait times and wait lists for individual surgeons are available on the Ministry of Health's web site. "Of course there are other factors at work, such as available operating room time." says Fuller. "But with private clinics clambering for access to public health care dollars, it would be prudent for government to investigate the relationship between wait lists for surgeons who play both sides of the system and the amount of time the vast majority of British Columbians who need surgery must wait for it." Studies in Alberta and Manitoba have both showed that the waiting times for cataract surgeries lengthened as a result of private clinic operations. Members of the B.C. Health Coalition include seniors', students' and women's groups, health care workers, trade unions, and advocacy organizations. The Coalition has been involved in a variety of activities over the last six months in support of Canada's universal health care system including post card campaigns, rallies and public meetings.