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Progress Report: BC catching up on surgical backlog, yet still lacks a long-term vision for surgical system improvements

Last June, BC Health Coalition members sent a clear message to Health Minister Dix and Premier Horgan: we want public solutions to B.C.’s surgical backlog. In response to the province’s Surgical Renewal Plan, 2966 of you joined us in a letter-writing campaign. Together we called for scaled up public investments in evidence-based system improvements that reduce wait times and build the capacity of our health care system now and for the future. 

Eight months into the Surgical Renewal Plan, what assessment can we make? While the government is to be commended for significantly ramping up public operating room hours, there has been a very significant increase in outsourcing surgeries to private, for-profit surgery clinics. In fact, the BC government is maximizing the number of surgeries performed in these for-profit centres across the province. In the most recent Surgical Renewal Plan update there is no mention of the government scaling up any proven wait time solutions in the public system.

The recent update also shows that recruitment and hiring have been limited to surgeons, registered nurses, and licensed practical nurses that only represent a segment of the surgical journey. There is no mention of attempts to hire other professionals that are essential for good surgical outcomes and reduction of surgical load. These include diagnostic imaging technologists as well prehabilitation and rehabilitation staff—including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and dieticians. With many of these professions experiencing shortages, we believe that a focus on hiring for the operating room will not be sufficient to improve our surgical system.

A large body of evidence indicates that we need investments in proven public solutions that are equitable, offer better quality, and are more efficient and cost-effective. While we understand the urgency of surgical volume, we continue to caution against quick, temporary fixes that don’t build long-term capacity in the public system – especially ones that rely on outsourcing to the private sector. We already know that private, for-profit delivery costs more, pulls health professionals out of the public system and is unaccountable to the public. We cannot afford to further entrench these facilities and their investors in our system.

In 2021, let’s continue to demand bold vision and leadership from our government so that our health care system is strong enough to meet the public’s need and resilient enough to withstand future crises.