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Surgery cancellations to continue through April at Lions Gate Hospital

Hundreds and possibly over 1,000 surgeries will likely be delayed over nursing shortages
Surgery delays at North Van's Lions Gate Hospital are expected to continue through April. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

Hundreds and possibly over 1,000 scheduled surgeries will be delayed at Lions Gate Hospital through to April because of continuing staff shortages.

Two operating rooms have been closed every day at Lions Gate since the third week in October, cutting normal capacity by between 20 and 25 per cent.

The closed operating rooms mean roughly six to eight scheduled surgeries are being postponed every day, according to the Ministry of Health. A ministry spokesperson said that works out to an “annualized average” of 30 postponed surgeries each week at the North Shore hospital.

That situation is expected to continue until at least April of next year, according to the ministry.

Some hospital staffers, however, say the number of cancelled surgeries could potentially be much higher, pointing to a number of between 1,000 and 1,400 as more likely.

Unlike at some other hospitals in Vancouver Coastal Health, surgeries to catch up on earlier cancellations due to COVID-19 have not been taking place on weekends and evenings at Lions Gate, said staffers, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.

Urgent and emergency surgeries are still taking place at the hospital.

One described it as the worst situation at the hospital in over two decades.

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

Nurses have been doing an excellent job of picking up extra shifts and working unbelievably hard during the pandemic, said the staffers. But that has started to result in major burnout.

“Nobody wants to work an eight-hour shift followed immediately by another eight-hour shift,” said the staffer. “Or when you get home at midnight then you’re getting texts at five in the morning to say ‘Hey are you available?’ I think it’s just become too much for the nurses.”

COVID outbreaks in other parts of the province have also played a part.

Six operating rooms at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops were shut this week because of COVID outbreaks. Over 120 critically ill patients – most of them ill with COVID-19 – have also been flown from the Northern health region to hospitals on the South Coast, including Lions Gate, since the beginning of September, which has required shuffling of nursing staff.

One local woman told the North Shore News her surgery had been cancelled a couple of times during the summer. “I got bumped a few times,” she said. “You just have to be understanding.”

When her surgery finally went ahead last month, she said she got to see first-hand what the nurses were up against.

“Those nurses were run off their feet,” she said.

“I thought: 'Not one bit of your job looks fun right now.' There was no downtime for those nurses at all.”

Lions Gate is not the only hospital impacted. Between Nov. 7 and Nov. 13, 174 non-urgent surgeries were postponed in health regions across B.C., said Health Minister Adrian Dix this week.

Between Sept. 5 and Nov. 13, there have been 2,845 surgical postponements at hospitals in B.C., he said.