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CT scanner unavailable for six hours last weekend at Surrey hospital due to staffing shortages

No patients were transferred to New Westminster for an urgent CT scan during that time
The CT scanner at Surrey Memorial was unavailable from midnight- 6 a.m. overnight last Saturday. Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023. (Photo: Anna Burns)

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said it is a “huge concern” that the CT scanner was unavailable for six hours due to staffing shortages last weekend.

“That’s frightening, a CT scanner being down (unavailable) for that long in a place where we have only one major hospital in our city. It’s just not good enough.”

Dr. Marietta Van Den Berg, site medical director for Surrey Memorial Hospital, said the hospital was “on diversion” during the six hours, from midnight to 6 a.m. when there was no CT tech. This means if a patient urgently needed a CT scan they would have been transferred to Royal Columbian Hospital.

The biggest concern was if a patient in the ICU needed to be moved. “Thank heaven, we did not have a patient,” who needed to be diverted, Van Den Berg said.

She added that other medical imaging devices can often be used, such as an MRI, X-ray and ultrasound, but if a patient had urgently needed a CT scan, they would have been transferred across the river to Royal Columbian.

This is the second time this has happened when the CT scan has been unavailable due to staffing shortages since Van Den Berg started in her role as interim site medical director. The last time was just days after she started in November 2023.

“We’re so not well resourced, that when we have a single sick call, the whole system falls down,” she added. Often times, they are able to find someone to cover this shift, but on rare occasions like last Saturday, they are not.”

“I don’t blame a tired person for not wanting to work yet another shift,” Van Den Berg said.

“It’s just the reality of how we’re working right now is that we’re constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul and robbing Paul to pay John and like we’re just you know, we’re just splitting the pain,” Van Den Berg said.

Staff shortages are not just limited to CT techs, Van Den Berg added.

“We have staffing shortages across the board, and it’s not just Surrey Memorial or B.C., it’s actually across Canada and across the world and everybody’s poaching staff for everybody else,” Van Den Berg said.

She added it is not as simple as calling in just anyone to take over a CT tech’s shift.

“These are complicated machines, and the techs are trained to run different machines.”

“We have techs who run MRI, we have others who run CT’s and they are not necessarily cross-trained, plus, you get different kinds of CT machines,” Van Den Berg said. “It’s actually a lot more complicated than just you need a body to run a machine.”

Van Den Berg also noted that moving a patient to another hospital within Fraser Health or the province is not new.

“Like Fraser Canyon Hospital, it doesn’t have everything that Abbotsford has or that Surrey has.”

“I think this is what the general public generally doesn’t understand that super specialist services are extremely expensive and those professionals are not common,” Van Den Berg added. “It’s not easy to hire them and so therefore, we kind of concentrate certain super specialist services at certain hospitals, and we have to transport patients, to those hospitals for those services.”

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Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said more needs to be done to support Surrey’s growth.

The province is “quick to tell us to build more housing, but they’re not very quick to figure out how they’re going to support that. So it leaves us in a very difficult position,” Locke said.

Locke feels that Surrey often has to “sit back and wait” when it comes to improvements to health care in Surrey. “We have a lot of catching up to do,” Locke said.

“Ultimately, we need a plan in Surrey. We need a plan to fulfill the infrastructure deficits that this city is facing, and they are enormous,” Locke said. “And I just feel that somehow the province doesn’t fully understand, whether it is that the MLAs are not communicating that to the minister of health, I don’t know, but we are certainly certainly shy of the health care that our city deserves.”

“We’re really going to have to make an aggressive change to how we’re looking at infrastructure in Surrey,” Locke said. “The city is growing exponentially, as everybody always talks about, but it doesn’t seem like they have a plan to move our infrastructure at the pace that is required.”

Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I cover health care, non-profits and social issues-related topics for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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