Fraser Health plans two-month bump in surgeries and scans

Extra money in surgical program budget at year end allows more procedures to help cut wait lists

Dr. Peter Blair is medical director for surgery for the Fraser Health Authority.

Fraser Health is temporarily increasing the number of surgeries it will perform over the next two months by seven per cent and it’s boosting the number of MRI scans by four per cent.

The additional 650 surgeries and 1,500 MRI scans are to be performed in February and March in a bid to reduce wait lists.

A year-end increase in spending to step up surgeries and scans was made possible because of a surplus in the surgical program budget, said Dr. Peter Blair, Fraser Health’s medical director for surgery.

“These cases are going to be done over the remainder of this fiscal year and out of our current budget, so we’re not taking money out of some other activity in order to fund this,” he said. “We’ll be looking at the longer waiting cases first and bringing them down.”

Extra surgeries will be distributed over various hospitals but not likely every one.

“We’re looking at Burnaby as a site and we’ll be looking at Surrey, Langley and Eagle Ridge,” he said, listing likely hospitals that may get extra funding.

The bump may well be temporary – there’s no guarantee the rate of surgeries and scans won’t drop back down in April as Fraser enters a new budget year.

Future levels will depend on Fraser’s budget allocation and the length of its wait lists, officials say.

The move comes after criticism last fall of Fraser for ordering surgeons to reassess some patients in an attempt to avoid or reduce government-imposed fines for failing to complete surgeries within one year.

As of Oct. 9, leaked statistics showed 650 scheduled surgeries had waited more than a year, the threshold where the health ministry imposes financial penalties under its pay-for-performance system.

Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma said those numbers have been steadily improving over the last several months.

The proportion of surgeries waiting longer than a year had dropped to 2.8 per cent as of the end of December, she said, down from more than 10 per cent in September of 2013.

She credited the combined efforts of surgeons and hospitals for the reduction.

Several hospitals with extra operating room time were able to offer it to surgeons normally based at different hospitals, she said.

Each surgery that waits longer than a year means Fraser is docked $1,400 in additional funding it could have otherwise accessed.

Juma said the planned increase in surgeries now is unconnected to the potential for penalties.

Fraser won’t find out how much funding is withheld due to excessive waits until after the 2014-15 fiscal year is finished.

Blair wasn’t able to comment on current wait times for surgeries or scans.

He said Fraser may need to do some juggling of nursing shifts and add anesthesiology time to step up surgeries.