Elective surgical procedures at hospitals in the Fraser Health region may be postponed by a service slowdown by anesthesiologists slated to start April 2.

Updated: Injunction sought to block planned surgical slowdown

Anesthesiologists set to deliver on threat to reduce service

B.C. health authorities will seek a court injunction Friday to block a partial service withdrawal planned by anesthesiologists that could disrupt thousands of elective surgeries scheduled for next week.

The B.C. Anesthesiologists Society (BCAS), which is in a labour dispute with the province, had vowed to reduce service at all Lower Mainland hospitals outside of Vancouver, as well as others on Vancouver Island and in the Interior, starting April 2.

Interior Health president and CEO Dr. Robert Halpenny, speaking on behalf of all health authorities, said the injunction is necessary because urgent and emergency surgeries could be compromised.

“The anesthesiologists have created maximum confusion for patients, our surgeons and other front-line staff,” he said.

Halpenny said the anesthesiologists’ suggestion they could do all needed procedures next week, but after regular hours, could delay urgent and emergency procedures that are normally get priority at those times.

“Any anesthesiologist who participates in service withdrawal or job action will be in breach of their contract,” he warned.

It remains unclear exactly how many anesthesiologists intend to withdraw service and which hospitals would be hardest hit if the job action proceeds.

Health authorities sent out 3,237 letters to patients this week warning their surgeries may be rescheduled, with 1,105 patients in Fraser Health receiving the advisory.

Fraser Health officials say they will allocate available surgery time to patients in priority according to their medical condition.

Patients most likely to be affected by the job action are ones awaiting non-urgent procedures such as hip or knee replacements and cataract surgeries.

All emergency and urgent surgery, including urgent joint replacements and cardiac or cancer-related surgeries, will not be affected.

Patients won’t be told until the day of surgery, according to Fraser Health officials, because the number of anesthesiologists working at each hospital won’t be known until then.

“This reduction is quite comparable to what you would see every year at Christmas or Spring Break or even in the summer time,” BCAS president Dr. Jeff Rains said, speaking before the court action was announced. “The health authorities have no problem adapting to those situations when it suits their needs.”

Anesthesiologists are trying to pressure the province to allow their society to bargain separately, rather than under the umbrella of the B.C. Medical Association, which they say does not represent their interests.

Rains said members are very frustrated after years of being “stonewalled.”

The BCAS, which represents some but not all anesthesiologists, gave notice three months ago of its threat to withdraw service if the dispute was not settled.

Rains said most of the 250 anesthesiologists in the Lower Mainland or on Vancouver Island will likely cut their hours by about 30 per cent, affecting all Fraser Health hospitals.

Health Minister Mike de Jong previously accused the group of holding patients hostage in a bid to win higher wages.

The province says anesthesiologists make about $340,000 a year with almost none of the overhead expenses of other doctors, and that their pay levels have climbed 36 per cent over the past decade, compared to 22 per cent for general practitioners.

De Jong called the threat of a service withdrawal “unprofessional” and referred the matter to the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons for possible disciplinary action.

Health authorities on Monday warned anesthesiologists by letter that those who withdraw service will be in violation of their ethical and professional responsibilities and may be subject to legal action.

It indicates health authorities could take the withdrawal as a voluntary reduction in anesthesiologists’ privileges – and effectively a permanent cut in their work hours and pay – and that they could be sued for costs arising from the job action.

Rains said any attempt by the province to punish anesthesiologists would only backfire by worsening surgery waits and making new anesthesiologists less likely to move to B.C.

“The threats and intimidation techniques and bullying they’re being subjected to right now – none of those things are actually going to improve the situation,” he said.

“Removing people’s licences? How is that going to help patient care across the province? It’s only going to make things worse.”

Just Posted

Trial slated to start Monday for accused killer of Abbotsford cop

Oscar Arfmann faces first-degree murder for death of Const. John Davidson

Agassiz study to look at drone use for pesticide application

The study will be the first in Canada to use drones to apply pesticides to farm fields

Registration lower than expected for Stave Falls Elementary

To date, there are 44 students registered to attend the Mission district school next year

Search for birth parents ends in Mission

Robert McKeever always knew he was adopted; last week he met up with his siblings for the first time

Three Mission RCMP constables named to Alexa’s Team

The team recognizes police officers who excel at removing impaired drivers from B.C. roadways

B.C.’s fight to regulate bitumen through pipelines to go to Canada’s top court

BC Appeal Court judges found B.C. cannot restrict bitumen flow along Trans Mountain pipeline

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

Body found after fire at Surrey homeless camp, police say

Surrey RCMP say the body was found inside a shed after firefighters extinguished the fire

RCMP probe hit-and-run of Richmond senior

The man, who is in his mid-70s, was walking with his wife when he was allegedly struck

More than half of Canadians support ban on handguns, assault rifles: study

Divide between rural and urban respondents in latest Angus Reid Institute public opinion study

Coquitlam crash kills one person, injured two others

Investigators with the RCMP criminal crash unit are working to determing the cause of the incident

Spring rain needed as B.C. sees one of the lowest snowpack levels in 40 years

Snowpack levels in B.C. recorded on May 15 were similar to those in 2015 and 2016

Theresa May to quit as party leader June 7, sparking race for new PM

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election

B.C. man who fell off cliff returns there to rescue eagle from vulture attack

Nanaimo’s James Farkas, who broke his hip in a fall, saves eagle on same beach months later

Most Read