The B.C. Anesthesiologists' Society (BCAS) vows doctors will withdraw elective services as of April

Anesthesiologists plan service withdrawal, despite gov’t announcement

Province agrees to 24/7 obstetrical anesthesia at the same time as B.C. Anesthesiologists' Society threatens spring job action.

A new agreement that supports obstetrical anesthesia 24 hours a day, seven days a week in B.C. was announced by the provincial government Tuesday.

While that news is welcome, the B.C. Anesthesiologists’ Society (BCAS) – which issued a media advisory Monday regarding its Tuesday morning press conference  – said it simply illustrates an ongoing problem: the lack of any kind of process for the BCAS to communicate with government to resolve several issues, including the need for 24/7 anesthesiologists in B.C. obstetrics wards.

Anesthesiologists still plans to withdraw elective services as of April 1, despite the province’s “convenient” announcement, said BCAS executive director Dr. Roland Orfaly.

He said the timing of the Ministry of Health release was interesting.

“The first we heard of it was at 10:15 this morning,” he said Tuesday. The BCAS press conference started at 10:30 a.m.

“We had no idea the government was even talking to anyone on that issue. We were certainly not part of the process.”

Orfaly said the BCAS has been trying for years to create a process in which it can come to the table with government representatives to address issues including wait times for surgery to patient safety issues (including the need for 24/7 obstetrics anesthesiologists) to perioperative efficiency issues.

“Right now, there is no process. An agreement was signed two years ago today where they promised us there would be a process in place by 2011,” he said. “We’re still waiting. We’ve been waiting for years for the government to address all problems regarding anesthetic care.”

Orfaly said instead of increasing ORs and funding, more could be done with existing resources.

“(The provincial government) is just throwing money at the symptoms of the problems,” he said. “It’s not about more money. It’s about not wasting the money we have.”

The Ministry of Health said the “milestone” agreement with the B.C. Medical Association (BCMA) paves the way for 24/7 obstetrical anesthesia services in all of B.C.’s tertiary care maternity hospitals to better support high-risk pregnant women and their babies.

Funding will come from “the allocation of $2.5 million in unspent funding from the current Physician Master Agreement between the province and the BCMA.”

B.C. Women’s Hospital already has a dedicated obstetrical anesthesiology (DOBA) service in place, said the province, and the new funding will help support services at B.C.’s other level three maternity hospitals – Surrey Memorial, Victoria General and Royal Columbian.

Orfaly said in the past, the BCAS has offered the government $3 million of its own funding to help provide 24/7 obstetrics care, but that the government didn’t want to talk.

The ministry release says the BCAS “has yet to submit any formal proposal”, but “looks forward to hearing more details on this funding from the society.”

The BCAS does not take the planned job action lightly, Orfaly noted.

“All we’re asking for is a process.”

Health Minister Mike de Jong did not respond to requests for an interview.

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