Saturday, October 02, 2004

Saskatchewan Kids Wait Years for Needed Surgeries

Kids wait years for surgeries
Wait shorter for surgery in Edmonton
Lana Haight
The StarPhoenix
Saturday, October 02, 2004

Young children in Saskatchewan can wait years for surgery in their home province or be transferred to Edmonton and have the same operation within weeks.
"My jaw hit the floor," said Valerie Elliot. "I honestly thought I wasn't hearing right."
Valerie and Stewart Elliot learned the hard facts of the health-care system at a recent visit to the province's only certified pediatric surgeon. Their two-year-old daughter, Skylar, has a growth attached to her thyroid that's been diagnosed as a thyroglossal duct cyst.
"It's quite a distinct protruding (lump), almost like an Adam's apple, only a little lower down," said Elliot.
Last month, Dr. Grant Miller told the family from Perdue that it could be two years before Skylar had the surgery in Saskatoon. The operation, which involves removing part of the bone that's attached to the cyst, was classified as non-urgent.
"I know there's a lump there and I know she's been an entirely different kid since the first part of August," said Elliot.
The family was immediately prepared to take Miller's advice to travel out of the province for Skylar's surgery even though they would have to pay for their own travel costs. The provincial health department covers the hospital expenses in such cases.
But this week, the Elliots learned that Skylar's condition had been bumped up to urgent and that she'll have her surgery in Saskatoon within weeks, not years.
"That's wonderful. Now we're just waiting on a phone call. It could be anytime from two to 12 weeks depending on when there's a time frame to fill," said Elliot.
More than 80 children are waiting for non-urgent operations to be performed by Miller, who is allocated about one-and-a-half days each week in the operating room. Some have already been waiting for more than two years.
In Edmonton, children requiring non-urgent surgery are having their operations performed by a pediatric surgeon within four to six weeks.
"When something is that outrageous, people have a hard time just believing it. How can it be -- two-and-one-half years here and you can go to Edmonton and have it done in six weeks. How can that be? It just can't be, but it is," said Miller.
"It wouldn't be right of me not to let people know what their options are. I'm not telling them they have to go away."
Saskatoon Health Region physician vice-president, Dr. Barry Maber, doesn't think sending patients to other centres for procedures that can be performed in Saskatchewan is appropriate.
"I don't think we should solve our waiting list problem by transferring people to another province," he said.
But he does agree that children in Saskatchewan needing non-urgent surgery are waiting an unacceptably long time. He says two factors are causing the long waits.
Miller performs complex pediatric surgeries to correct congenital problems as well as routine surgeries on newborn babies. Anything that's not emergent or urgent is rarely performed because he's so busy with more pressing cases.
The other problem is an administrative one.
The health region, through its surgical operations committee, allocates operating room time to the surgical specialists based on each specialty's waiting list. Pediatric surgery falls under the general surgery division.
"If pediatric surgery were to be its own master, so to speak, would that give them better opportunity to increase their operating time?" Maber said.
"And I guess, to some extent, it would give them opportunity if they had to re-allocate, they would be re-allocating within the group as opposed to competing with adults (waiting for surgery)."
A hospital dedicated to children's health could solve both these problems, says Maber.
Miller agrees with the necessity of a children's hospital in the province.
"The only way we're going to be able to give children in Saskatchewan the best care, care that's comparable to the rest of the country, is to have a pediatric centre because we'll have resources, operating room resources that are dedicated to children," said Miller.
The health region is committed to redesigning existing hospital space to create a children's hospital within a hospital.
"Unfortunately because of the complicated inter-dependencies that exist, we just can't do it overnight. How soon will it occur? I can't answer that right now. We are actively working on bringing the pieces together," said Maber.
In the meantime, the health region is hoping to recruit another pediatric surgeon to work in Saskatoon but it could take months before someone is in place.

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2004