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‘Decades of chronic underfunding‘: Doctors rally in Surrey citing issues with funding, state of services

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Dr. Randeep Gill, Surrey Hospitals Foundation’s director, and other B.C. doctors held a rally in Surrey on Saturday to raise awareness about issues within Surrey’s health-care services.

The rally started at 2 p.m. in the Surrey Civic Plaza outside Surrey City Hall, with hundreds of Surrey residents in attendance.

“These are decades of issues, decades of chronic underfunding and we look forward to the response from the (province),” Dr. Gill said.

“We can’t treat the three leading causes of death here in the south of the Fraser. We need acute care beds. We are decades behind.”

In Dr. Gill’s words, the rally aims to highlight critical issues such as the disproportionate allocation of resources, not enough beds and inadequate hospital infrastructure for the population and disease burden, absence of health services plans to match the needs of the community, inadequate and insufficient access to family doctors, and lack of funding for tertiary, specialized services (such as cardiac, trauma, maternity, pediatric, IR surgical, diagnostics).

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He said in his time at the Surrey hospital, he’s seen thousands of Surrey moms diverted to Vancouver hospitals to give birth due to a lack of capacity on-site, but he’s never once heard of the reverse happening.

“The illest children and the sickest adults need to be transferred out of Surrey Memorial Hospital for a higher level of care because we do not have the life-saving interventions here, locally, at south of the Fraser,” he said in the video.

“Yet this happens every single day, has happened for decades. This would never be acceptable if this were a resident of Vancouver that needed to leave their city for life-saving interventions when time is of the essence. We deserve better.”

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke said the issues surrounding health-care services in the city are systemic and are not solely the fault of the current provincial government.

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“The heart of the issue is there has not been funding for hospital in Surrey but also the entire south Fraser is at such a deficit when it comes to care we can deliver for our residents,” she said.

“We are not keeping up with growth. This is not directed at any one government but is directed at all governments previously. This has been a systemic problem in the south Fraser but particularly in Surrey and it’s getting worse by the day.”

A local member of parliament also voiced his support for doctors and medical professionals in the region.

“My wife is a doctor at Surrey Memorial Hospital and I hear a lot about some of the challenges facing the health system,” John Aldag, Cloverdale-Langley City MP, said.

“I wanted to be here and show support for the doctors. It’s been a really challenging last few years for medical professionals.”

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On Friday, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix held a press conference outside of Surrey Memorial Hospital to address some of the issues ahead of the Saturday rally.

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Over the summer, the province and Fraser Health have posted 64 new health-care positions to the ailing hospital, which suffers from a constantly clogged emergency room, as well as added 10 patient ambassadors to improve care.

A new care and triage department was established in July, an on-site clinical counsellor is now available for hospital staff, and additional physicians have been added to the rotation in the emergency department’s satellite clinic — just to name a few measures, Dix said.

“There’s extraordinary demand in our health-care system — not just here in Surrey, but in Abbotsford and everywhere else in the province,” he said after a meeting with hospital staff and Fraser Health officials.

“It is not easy. It is as hard as it could be and you can’t solve all problems instantly.”

In May, dozens of doctors and midwives penned letters to health-care officials and the public stating that the quality of care at Surrey Memorial Hospital is in real jeopardy and has already compromised public safety.

Another letter from emergency room doctors warned of “unsafe conditions” and a failure to communicate the breadth of the “crisis to patients and the public,” while the former medical director of Surrey Memorial Hospital said the crisis had reached a “boiling point,” marked by a shortage of house doctors and acute care beds.

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In June, Dix promised to expand Surrey Memorial Hospital and release details of the project in the fall. The province has announced 30 measures to address grievances in Surrey health care, after “years of neglect.” A new clinical services plan for surgery for specialty needs is also expected to be completed next month.

In a previous interview with Global News, however, the health authority’s CEO Dr. Victoria Lee said “everybody is doing their best to ensure they are doing their best care for patients that are in front of them,” and she would have no hesitation in sending her family there.

Dix has previously said that Lee has his full confidence as leader of Fraser Health.

As it stands, the minister said some 9,700 people are currently in acute care in B.C. hospitals — about 700 more than health authorities would usually expect this time of year.

— With files from Elizabeth McSheffrey.