Specialists write open letter to Adrian Dix about B.C.'s 'crumbling' health-care system

Health Minister Adrian Dix at the annual UBCM convention in Whistler on Sept. 13, 2022.

A group of more than two dozen medical specialists has ripped Health Minister Adrian Dix in an open letter complaining they are watching their patients suffer and die on intractable and worsening waiting lists.

The 26 specialist doctors — led by Dr. Cassandra Lane Dielwart, an orthopedic surgeon in Kelowna — says the province’s “crumbling” health-care system is letting patients down, a million of whom are on wait lists that are only getting worse.

In the letter distributed Wednesday, the group calls on Dix to set up an urgent meeting and work co-operatively with the specialists to find solutions.

“Our entire health-care system is crumbling, but not enough is being done to improve specialist patient outcomes or shorten our overcrowded wait lists,” writes the group, which includes cardiologists, pediatricians, transplant surgeons and many other specialists.

“If we do not work together to find solutions, specialty care in this province is going to erode even further.”

The letter notes persistent challenges in recent years, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, mean “patients are getting sicker and dying on our wait lists.”

Despite the efforts of primary care providers, the letter says “urgent primary care centres and emergency departments are overwhelmed and can’t provide immediate access to specialists” — and the problem isn’t limited to delays for surgeries.

“Long surgical wait times are the most widely known, but the crisis in wait times extends to the entire breadth of specialist care,” it reads, offering a few examples out of “hundreds, if not thousands” of similar stories:

• A patient with sudden hearing loss who is permanently hearing impaired due to being forced to wait;

• “More than 16,000 people waiting for an echocardiogram in Vancouver Coastal Health alone”;

• Patients in Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island waiting two to three months for an oncologist to see them after a new cancer diagnosis;

• A Northern Health respirologist, the only one in her area, forced to close her practice to new patients for the past two years as she catches up;

• And patients “waiting on tenter-hooks for weeks for their lab results and surgical pathology because of lengthy backlogs in our labs.”

The specialists say they’re writing on behalf of patients, many of whom “are often too ill to advocate for themselves. We need to stabilize and strengthen our specialty care infrastructure to support this vulnerable population.”

The doctors say they are “exhausted and demoralized” as they watch specialist care continue to decline.

“It is soul-destroying to be unable to provide the specialty care that B.C. patients need and deserve. We request a meeting with you emergently, and that is not a word we use lightly.”

Postmedia has reached out to Health Minister Adrian Dix for a response.

For more health news and content around diseases, conditions, wellness, healthy living, drugs, treatments and more, head to Healthing.ca – a member of the Postmedia Network.

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