Doctors raise the alarm as hospital crisis leads to newborn death in Surrey

May 30 2023, 9:18 pm

Thirty-six doctors working within the Surrey Memorial Hospital obstetrician and gynecology units signed a letter addressed to the “citizens of Surrey” saying “chronic and pervasive under-resourcing” has led to “adverse outcomes” in the hospital. 

Women’s health providers are echoing the “unsafe” hospital conditions emergency room doctors recently raised to the public.

The women’s health physicians go on to explain a “mismatch in resources has resulted in a newborn death, countless near misses, and moral injury to our care providers.”

“Insufficient space and a lack of nursing resources”

Despite the hospital serving a larger population than Vancouver, the Family Birthing Unit (FBU) has “half the number of beds,” doctors say. 

“[FBU is] grappling with an acute shortage of supervised beds due to insufficient space and a lack of nursing resources.”

Doctors say the unit oversees about 6,000 deliveries a year, but the last expansion the unit undertook was a decade ago when there were 2,000 fewer deliveries yearly. 

Patients at the hospital are now facing “systemic issues” which are compromising their safety due to the critical lack of resources, doctors add.

“Compounding these issues, women often lack access to effective pain management and do not receive the necessary privacy during and after childbirth,” the letter reads. 

Doctors go on to say that temporary orders to make up for shortfalls are not resulting in a safe labour and delivery unit for patients. 

“The move to non-private postpartum rooms within spaces designed for single occupancy has created workplace hazards for nursing staff, stripped away privacy for families and raised significant concerns regarding infection control,” the letter reads. 

The number of patients that are not in labour but need a high level of in-patient care has even been limited at the hospital so doctors can meet the demands of labouring patients.

Since doctors rely on transferring patients outside of a patient’s community, they say it is a “symptom of a broken system.”

“Egregiously inaccurate” surgical wait times

Meanwhile, doctors are also calling out the “egregiously inaccurate” surgical wait times. 

They say, despite repeatedly demanding accurate wait times, there hasn’t been a change. 

“Year-to-date wait times for surgery at SMH are 23% longer than benchmark (the maximum amount of time that clinical evidence shows is appropriate to wait for a particular procedure),” the letter reads. “The gynecology service average wait times are 77% longer than benchmark, the highest outlier at SMH.”

As a result, doctors say women are falling through the cracks. 

“Women in Surrey are suffering from significant pelvic disease, at times requiring multiple blood transfusions while awaiting surgery, requiring extended leave from work and with no choice but to use costly medications, not without side effects, while they wait.”

Doctors said they tried to create solutions themselves, but long-term solutions are needed. For example, they are calling for an increase in operating rooms. 

Doctors are also reiterating emergency room doctors’ demand to address the “severe shortage of acute care beds.”

“A shortage of acute care in-patient beds… force cancellations of any surgery requiring a patient to be admitted to hospital.”

Without solutions, the crisis is expected to escalate 

Without viable solutions and support from government leaders, as well as investments and expansion to SMH, “the crisis is likely to escalate further,” doctors say. 

A second hospital in Surrey is in the works to accommodate the rapidly growing needs of Surrey’s population. However, doctors in this letter say, “This project will do nothing to address the issues we outlined as there is no plan to add obstetric or gynecological care at this new centre.”

“In fact, this project, which we feel is deeply misguided, will halt any substantial investment in Women’s Health in our region, setting us back by decades,” doctors say. 

Doctors are calling on patients from Burnaby to Boston Bar to demand funding and resources from SMH and the Fraser Health Authority “that is equivalent to our neighbours in Vancouver.”

“From our Fraser senior executive, board of directors, and elected leaders, we respectfully demand on behalf of our patients accountability, transparency and action urgently, today,” the letter continues. 

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