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Hospital projects elsewhere leave local surgeon crying foul

A local surgeon is expressing frustration over recent decisions to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into two major hospital projects elsewhere in B.C. while leaving University Hospital of Northern B.C.
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A local surgeon is expressing frustration over recent decisions to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into two major hospital projects elsewhere in B.C. while leaving University Hospital of Northern B.C. out in the cold in its quest for a new operating rooms.

Last week, the provincial government announced a new $417-million tower at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops and $102 million worth of improved operating facilities at Vancouver General Hospital.

As for UHNBC, it's been five years and counting since the push began for better and larger operating rooms, Dr. Bill Simpson of the Northern Medical Society said Tuesday.

"I'm just amazed we're not getting anything as yet," he said. "Disappointed, you know."

As it stands, he said each Prince George surgeon is allotted three seven-hour days of operating time per month, less than the standard minimum for the province of one day per week.

"And a great big proportion of that is waiting, it's not actually operating, it's waiting between cases for things to get prepared so the actual operating time is maybe as little as four hours," Simpson said.

Simpson said he believes local MLAs are "on board with what we need."

"We don't have the Minister of Health, maybe next session we can get the Minister of Health who will give us a new hospital," Simpson said. Terry Lake, the current Minister of Health is the MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson.

UHNBC houses seven operating rooms and aims to keep six running on a consistent schedule and one unscheduled for trauma cases.

Northern Health board chair Charles Jago said the agency is aware the hospital's operating rooms are in "need of significant renovation."

"We're pressing the case very hard so we would hope that we could address those things in a reasonable period of time, which by my reckoning would be in the five-year range or so," Jago said.

Jago said more operating rooms are needed at UHNBC to increase the time available for doctors and noted larger rooms with the capacity to use robotics are in the plans for VGH.

"It's a very different kind of facility than what we have right now," Jago said. "What we have right now is somewhat outdated, it's a congested area...it's time that we address that need."

Outcomes for patients at UHNBC remain "excellent," he added.

"We don't want to undermine people's confidence in the services we're providing right now," Jago said.

He thought wait times at UHNBC are no worse than anywhere else in B.C.

"We're facing the challenges everyone else is facing and being able to keep up with demand is one of those issues," Jago said.

Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond could not be reached for comment Tuesday.