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Top doc cries out for more staff

Dr. Jane Bishop, president of the Sunshine Coast Medical Society (SCMS), has gone on record this week stating there is a crisis at St.

Dr. Jane Bishop, president of the Sunshine Coast Medical Society (SCMS), has gone on record this week stating there is a crisis at St. Mary's Hospital and that the medical staff will be releasing themselves of all perceived obligations to the emergency room (ER) unless something is done soon.

On Jan. 31 Bishop sent an urgent letter to Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and copied to Coast Reporter this week on page A11, stating: "This is to give notice that the St. Mary's medical staff will likely be unavailable to staff the emergency room on a full-time basis as we have in the past we need a significant inflow of new family practitioners or ER physicians. We look to VCH for immediate action."

"I expect VCH to come up with a solution immediately. The future of the ER is in question," said Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons, who received Bishop's letter last week. "I have never seen it as bad as it is under this government."

On Monday, Feb. 12, Bishop told Coast Reporter that the ER is going to be short of staff by April 2007. "We want to get this message out to the public so they are not caught off-guard if there is no available ER doctor," said Bishop.

Physicians are being torn between the ER and family practices, leaving the community without adequate medical service. In the Feb. 9 edition of Coast Reporter the Sechelt Medical Clinic ran an advertisement saying: "We are currently experiencing a shortage of doctors and in order to adequately staff the emergency department we are having difficulty in providing sufficient appointment times." The notice goes on to explain that the clinic will be working on a first-come, first-served basis during specified hours. According to the SCMS, local physicians have provided 24-hour ER services as well as in-patient and ambulatory care services, back-up call, anesthesia, obstetrical, surgical assists and long-term care coverage, in addition to maintaining clinical practices. "We are stretched to a near breaking point. Profound fatigue is setting in, compounded by very busy office practices, long days and weeks, plus more frequent and busier ER shifts. Few of us are young," Bishop added in her letter.

The situation was recently intensified with the resignation of three full-time ER physicians and the death of another. Currently there are 16 full-time medical staff at the ER, down from 23 in 2005. Eight of the present staff are over the age of 55 and, according to the SCMS, "at risk" of retirement. Another two family physicians are over the age of 60 and expected to retire in the near future.

The Coast's lack of young blood is at the heart of this crisis, it appears. In a separate appendix sent to VCH, the SCMS explains: "We have been unable for two years to attract the services of permanent new physicians. In addition the community at large continues to grow at one of the fastest rates in the province. Many of these new community members are of retirement age; therefore, there are more patients with complex medical problems."

On Feb. 7, in response to Bishop's letter, VCH representative Dr. Richard Lupton met with a group from the SCMS. "Dr. Lupton has met with us and is taking our concerns back to VCH. He will be returning in March to further discuss the issue," said Bishop. In a phone interview with VCH on Tuesday, regional communications officer Clive Camm said, "We are working with the doctors at St. Mary's Hospital on this situation." No further comment was given. When asked exactly what work Dr. Lupton was doing and when he would be returning to meet with the SCMS, Coast Reporter was told Dr. Lupton is out of the country and could not be contacted.