Surrey Memorial Hospital ER doctors sound alarm on crisis


Another group of doctors is speaking up about dire conditions in their hospital, warning patients are dying after waiting a day or longer to be seen by a doctor in the emergency department of Surrey Memorial Hospital.


Signed by Surrey Memorial Hospital Emergency Physicians, the open letter opens with the doctors saying they felt “compelled to inform the public of the unsafe conditions that exist in our hospital, and the lack of communication about this crisis to patients and public.”


They say despite attention from the ministry of health, conditions are worsening at the busiest emergency department in British Columbia, and that even for seriously sick or injured patients, “it is common for them to linger for days without an admitting physician looking after them; many patients have suffered, and some have died while waiting.” 


CTV News has spoken with some of the staff directly but agreed to conceal their identities for fear of repercussions, which has been a massive concern in the province: muzzled healthcare workers of all stripes describe a culture of fear for speaking out about the failures of the system, even when they’re solely advocating for their patients’ safety and care.


“Fraser Health has repeatedly told ER physicians to not openly discuss our ‘challenges’ with the public,” the group writes in its letter.


“RED ALERT” IN ALL OF B.C.’S EMERGENCY DEPARTMENTS


The focus on emergency department medicine came after CTV News was first to report on a Langley doctor who wrote to his colleagues, urging them to counsel their patients against going to Langley Memorial Hospital, which he described as “near catastrophic.”


The Langley Division of Family Practice reinforced that message days later, and shortly after, the Doctors of BC issued a statement warning that all emergency departments in the province are on “red alert,” and effectively prevented from sounding the alarm on days they’re overrun by patients who need their help.


The Section of Emergency Medicine bulletin urged patients to continue to go to seek hospital care for emergencies, but painted a grim picture of the situation.


“Too many patients, including those with serious medical conditions, are being warehoused in emergency rooms for 24 to 48 hours,” wrote Dr. Gord McInnes. “Our patients are suffering, and the doctors struggling to provide their care are tired and distressed.” 


THE MINISTER RESPONDS


At a press conference where he announced some British Columbian cancer patients would have to travel to Washington State for radiation treatment, the health minister was bombarded with questions about the alarms bells rung by emergency physicians.


“I understand the frustration that healthcare professionals feel,” Adrian Dix said of the letter from the SMH doctors.


He went on to criticize the previous Liberal government for under-investing in healthcare facilities in Fraser Health, highlighting his government’s green-lighting of a new hospital for Surrey, one that has already been widely criticized as falling far short of the needs of the current population, let alone future needs. 


Dix acknowledged that there have been “detailed meetings in the last week” to address the issues at the Surrey and Langley hospitals, and that they’re working on a new contract for the physicians who work in very stressful conditions, with unprecedented patient demand. 


“We’re working with hospitalists and emergency room doctors to make real changes to make their lives better and to improve what’s called patient flow in the hospital,” he said. “We’re significantly increasing the capacity of our system to respond.” 


Doctors tell CTV News they’re most concerned about their patients and the conditions they’re forced to treat them in due to staffing and bed shortages, which they also outline in the letter.


“We care for vulnerable patients in waiting rooms, corridors and unmonitored treatment zones, often for days,” they write. “Elderly patients become more confused and are forced to endure their illness without privacy or comfort.”

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