METRO VANCOUVER – Fraser Health could face $2.5 million in fines over a backlog of surgical wait times in hospitals across the province, with Surrey Memorial topping that list.
According to documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), Fraser Health had 649 cases in which the wait time for surgery had exceeded one year. And as of Oct. 9, Surrey Memorial made up 226 of those cases, well above the second most wait times of 143 at Burnaby General.
In a Nov. 4 memo to surgeons across the Fraser Health region, Fraser Health’s medical director of surgery Dr. Peter Blair notes the Ministry of Health has a funding structure known as Pay for Performance which penalizes hospitals for surgical bookings that remain on a wait list for more than 52 weeks.
Although Blair wrote Fraser Health has shown improvement in lowering the number of patients on the collective wait list beyond 52 weeks in the past year – 4.5 per cent from 10 per cent – the backlog needs to be cleared out.
"There still remains a volume of patients whose bookings are causing penalty," he said. "It is imperative for the interest of all, including our patients, that we use every available strategy to avoid penalties."
Blair added that the regional department heads of the surgical divisions within Fraser Health will now review bookings that exceed 40 weeks and be returned to surgeon offices for reassessment.
But the CTF has accused the health authority of using the reassessment to "get around the fine" regardless of the medical need.
"It’s bad enough these people are being forced to wait a year for surgery, but now Fraser Health wants to play games with their wait times," said CTF B.C. director Jordan Bateman in a release. "Dragging these people around and around the system as a loophole to avoid financial discipline is ludicrous. There is no medical need for these reassessment visits."
Bateman said while the CTF applauds the province for trying to get waitlists reduced through penalties, he urges the government to also look to alternative surgical market delivery options to further reduce wait times.
The Fraser Health letter included a spreadsheet showing the breakdown of surgeries in each hospital in the region and the theoretical amount the
province could withhold after Dec. 31, 2014 for keeping patients waiting.
According to those documents, Surrey Memorial had 3,415 surgeries booked that are below 26 weeks in wait time, 1,044 that are between 26 and 52 weeks, and 226 that exceed 52 weeks, creating a potential funding shortfall of $781,200.
Fraser Health has based on the financial estimates on the assumption of a cost of $1,400 per case.
The same document indicates that between the period of Sept. 12 to Oct. 9
the hospital performed 635 surgeries from a previous wait list where patients were below 26 weeks, 190 surgeries between 26 and 52 weeks, and 34 surgeries for patients who had waited more than 52 weeks.
A press release issued by the regional health authority on Thursday said the Canadian Taxpayers Federation was spreading "misinformation" and said the priority of the surgical program is timely access to treatment for patients.
"The reassessment allows the surgeon to confirm the patients’ health status, their availability, and requirement and if they still want their surgery," stated the release.
Fraser Health also stressed the new process does not impact patient wait time on the list or reset the clock.