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Royal Jubilee Hospital will be down one OR in fall, postponing surgeries for up to 312 people

Royal Jubilee Hospital will run with one less operating room for almost two months this fall affecting up to 312 general surgeries. The reduction will occur Sept. 5 to Oct. 27
Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Royal Jubilee Hospital will run with one less operating room for almost two months this fall affecting up to 312 general surgeries. The reduction will occur Sept. 5 to Oct. 27 and is due to ongoing “workforce challenges,” Island Health said.

“We know that short notice postponements of medical procedures have a negative impact on patients and their families,” said Island Health. “We are committed to ensuring that individuals who have their surgery postponed will be rescheduled as soon as possible.”

Royal Jubilee will run nine ORs in the fall, down from 10 in the spring, and three fewer than total capacity of 12.

One operating room may reasonably see one to eight surgeries a day depending on the complexity of a procedure. Based on a five-day week, one fewer OR at Royal Jubilee means up to 312 people could see their surgeries postponed.

Victoria General Hospital will return in the fall to operating nine of its 10 ORs for general surgeries.

Stefan Fletcher, CEO at ReblanceMD, a centre for orthopaedic, physical medicine and sports injury care, said surgeons are extremely frustrated with the closings and patients are leaving the province “in droves” for private surgery. “The effect on cancelled patients is profound,” said Fletcher, who was asked Thursday to comment on the closures.

“We had to cancel about 125 patients for September-October for total hips and knees.”

About 4,000 patients are waiting for surgery — about 2,900 for joint replacements — in the capital region and the wait times have increased to 44 weeks from 20 weeks pre-pandemic, said Fletcher, using his centre’s data. Health Ministry data captures the time a patient waits between when their surgery is booked to when it’s completed.

“We are working with the health authority to try to innovate changes but they have significant staffing issues,” said Fletcher. “We are all at the mercy of the challenges in surgical delivery; something has to change.”

Island Health said in a statement it is committed to addressing surgical staffing shortages and “plans to return to the full utilization of all ORs as soon as we are able to.”

Orthpaedic surgeon Dr. Peter Dryden, contacted by the Times Colonist, said the closures will have a significant impact on OR time and patients who had surgeries planned for the fall will have them postponed. “And we have a lot of people waiting and so that postpones everyone on the waitlist, it backs everyone up, so to speak, and so it’s a big problem,” said Dryden.

The surgery waitlist already grows during the summer when the health authority shuts down some operating rooms to allow, in part, for physicians and staff to take vacations.

“Most of the orthopaedics I know don’t really take extended holidays,” said Dryden. “So during that time, we go to the office and book more people for surgery when we’re not operating. That puts more people on the waitlist and then normally in September, the OR then ramps up.”

The health authority couldn’t say Thursday how many ORs are currently running at Royal Jubilee and Victoria General as part of a summer slowdown and couldn’t say the last time both hospitals were operating at full capacity. There are 12 ORs at Royal Jubilee and 10 at Victoria General.

Island Health said it has an “aggressive” nation-wide recruitment campaign underway but that health care professionals with training and experience in surgical services are in “incredibly high demand.” “This is a national and international issue,” said the health authority.

Dryden said surgeons want to be operating to help their patients and finding a way to get back to that “would be really good for patients.”

“VIHA messaged us to say this is happening and we’re always against this happening, obviously, but there’s not much we can do,” said Dryden. “We don’t have much control over what the hospital does.”

Island Health said despite the closure, in the 2022-23 fiscal year, 121,580 operating room hours were completed across Island Health, an increase of 5,617 hours or five per cent when compared to pre-COVID hours.

Surgical volumes have increased, up seven per cent, compared to pre-pandemic levels, according to the health authority.

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