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Patients face more surgery delays and cancellations at Lions Gate

Nursing shortage at North Vancouver hospital prompts operating room cutbacks
Patients could face more surgery cancellations and delays at Lions Gate Hospital, due to a nursing staff shortage. | Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Patients scheduled for surgery at North Vancouver’s Lions Gate Hospital in the coming months could find themselves experiencing more delays and cancellations.

Starting this week, operating time for scheduled surgeries at Lions Gate has been cut by about 20 per cent, the North Shore News has learned.

The cuts are primarily being caused by a lack of nursing staff, sources said.

No one reason is being pointed to as the cause for the nursing shortage. But nurses have already been stretched thin at the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of them working overtime and extra shifts. The hospital is currently short-staffed by about 15 nursing positions, sources said.

Staff learned last week the shortage will result in cuts to operating room time that could potentially mean hundreds of delayed and cancelled surgeries between now and next spring.

One North Vancouver woman who had been waiting for cancer surgery at Lions Gate told the News she’d had her October surgery cancelled and then later rebooked for this week.

“I was incredibly stressed when I heard it had been postponed,” she said, adding her surgeon’s office told her that 20 per cent of surgeries were being cut due to nursing shortages.

Staff she spoke to at the hospital during recent pre-operative tests told her, “It’s just burnout,” she said. “[Nurses] are just worn out and can’t do it anymore.”

“It’s hard for me to be angry about it,” she said. “Our medical system has been running on fumes for so long. ... I just kind of feel like we’ve been let down by the decision makers.”

To some extent, she said she blames unvaccinated people who have contracted COVID-19 and put unnecessary strain on the health-care system.

In a letter to patients, the woman’s surgeon blamed “pressures of COVID-19 as well as staff shortages” for leading to “significant delays, and unfortunately, many cancellations.”

The letter added patients are being triaged based on the seriousness of their condition.

Another West Vancouver patient said she’s also had her scheduled surgery cancelled. In her case, surgeons have said it’s most likely the cyst in her breast isn’t cancer. But there’s a “very, very slim chance,” it could be, she added. “You just want to get it out.”

She got a call Thursday, cancelling her surgery. So far she doesn’t have another surgery date booked.

“I can deal with it being delayed multiple times,” she said. “Right now, it’s just cancelled.”

The woman said she doesn’t blame her surgeon, who is doing the best she can. But she said the situation is stressful and worrying, and other patients on the North Shore need to know their surgeries could be next.

Both women asked not to be named to protect their privacy.

Staffers who work at LGH also contacted the News to voice concern over the latest surgical cuts at the hospital.

“People just deserve to know,” said one staffer.

Unlike at some other hospitals, surgeries to catch up on earlier cancellations due to COVID-19 have not been taking place on weekends and evenings at Lions Gate, said the staffer.

“We’ve always been scrambling just to keep up.”

The staffers who spoke to the News also asked not to be named, saying they had not been authorized to speak publicly about the situation.

“To me this is a terrible situation for everyone. People deserve to know,” said one.

Vancouver Coastal Health referred all questions about surgical cancellations to the Ministry of Health. The ministry did not immediately provide a comment or response to questions.

The BC Nurses Union also did not respond to a request for comment, saying nobody was available to talk about the situation.

In a press conference Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said 200 scheduled surgeries were cancelled in B.C. hospitals between Oct. 17 and Oct. 23, including 77 surgeries in Vancouver Coastal Health. No breakdown was available on which hospitals those surgeries had been scheduled for.