AMA calls patient diversion for emergency surgery unsafe

AMA calls patient diversion for emergency surgery unsafe
AMA calls patient diversion for emergency surgery unsafe

The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) is drawing attention to what it says is a shortage of medical personnel capable of performing general surgeries in the province.

“Hospitals simply cannot function without the availability of general surgeons,” said Dr. Paul Parks, president of the AMA.

“The chronic shortage of health care professionals you hear about is especially affecting patients undergoing general surgery,” said Dr. Lloyd Mack, chairman of the AMA Section of General Surgery.

At a press conference on Monday, doctors said staff shortages are leading to an increasing number of “diversions” for patients needing emergency surgery.

“There is an increasing chance that you will be treated and stabilized in the emergency room, but then unfortunately you will have to be bundled up and put back in an ambulance,” Dr. Parks said.

Patients are then transferred to another hospital with sufficient staff.

“It depends on the availability of staff working with the surgeon and the support team,” said Dr. Mack.

“If those team members aren’t there, I can’t take the patient from the ED. The ED is essentially closed to surgical patients and the patient has to be sent somewhere else,” he added.

Alberta Health Services did not provide information on the number of diversions needed for emergency surgeries in 2023 and 2024 when asked by CTV News Edmonton.

“Surgical diversions will only be activated once all available resources have been used and all other measures have been exhausted,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.

“When diversion is necessary, our teams work closely with clinicians and sites to ensure we can continue to provide high-quality care where resources best meet patient needs,” the statement said.

“It’s not safe,” said Dr. Mack.

“Delay means likely complications. It can mean more serious illness very quickly, and in the worst case, a patient can die from these diseases,” he said.

“This is not a new problem, but it is becoming increasingly serious and is having a very significant impact on the lives of Albertans,” said Dr. Parks.

The AMA is launching a six-week information campaign focused on general surgery. Dr. Mack said letting the public know there is a problem is the first step.

“Then we need to invest in making sure we have the important Tier 1 support: clinical assistants, physician assistants and nurse practitioners,” Dr. Mack said.

“Without them we cannot conduct our operations and do our work,” he said.

The AMA said it outlined financial incentives in the Hospital Stabilization Plan, which was presented to the UCP government in December 2023, that would address the urgent need for healthcare professionals.

“This will at least help stabilize the situation and create an environment where we can move forward, where we can actually find and train the right people,” Dr. Parks said.

“This will allow us to create a plan for the future that will allow us to meaningfully expand our workforce and protect these services,” he said.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said the province is investing to increase capacity so people can “get the surgeries they need more quickly.”

“This includes $618 million to modernize and improve operating rooms across the province and ensure we remain on track to perform a record number of surgeries this year,” said Andrea Smith.

She said “thousands” of Albertans are undergoing government-funded surgery at accredited clinics.

“This will free up more operating rooms in hospitals, creating more space for more complex operations,” she said.

Smith did not answer questions from CTV News Edmonton about emergency surgery diversions or what the government is doing to address staffing issues.

“We need the government to emphasize the urgency of the solutions,” said Dr. Parks.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski