Doctors, patients sound alarm over shortage of Sask. liver disease specialists
Doctors and patients are sounding the alarm over a shortage of liver disease specialists in Saskatchewan.
There are only two full-time hepatologists in the province, and one is retiring at the end of this calendar year.
"A lot of the situations that I've been in, you can't wait," said liver transplant recipient Dave Turk. "There has to be someone there. That's why it's important to listen to those that live and breathe that job every day."
Turk said hundreds of people like him depend on these specialists.
"You know, you would hope that the people who need to make decisions are listening to those on the job who are trying to explain the standards of care they're trying to uphold," Turk said.
Saskatchewan hepatologists Dr. Lawrence Worobetz and Dr. Mina Niazi are calling for more resources. Worobetz will retire at the end of this year after more than 40 years in practice.
The two physicians specialize in liver disease and its prevention, especially non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which comes from an excessive accumulation of fat in the liver not related to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
This phenomenon affects about 20 per cent of Canada's population, according to the Canadian Liver Foundation.
According to the two doctors, at least four more specialists, two nurses and dieticians are needed to meet the demand for liver health care in Saskatchewan. They said Manitoba has nine hepatologists and Alberta has 25.
"I'm trying to be proactive and put structures in place before I retire so that Dr. Mina Niazi has the resources to move forward," Worobetz said. "She may be the only expert in this area for some time."
Worobetz and Niazi would also like to have access to a portable FibroScan machine to allow them to care for patients in remote communities. This tool calculates liver health without having to do a biopsy.
Niazi fears that her workload will continue to increase after Worobetz retires unless resources increase.
"We're going to see an increase in liver disease, and I'm concerned about that because we'd like to be able to treat our patients well. I hope that our team will grow stronger in the future and that other hepatologists and nurses will join our team," she said.
The pair is currently following Turk and 150 other liver transplant recipients, with follow-ups continuing throughout the patients' lives. In Saskatchewan, about 15 people are waiting for a liver transplant.
Worobetz and Niazi met with Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) officials last April as part of Liver Health Month and shared their concerns.
According to the two specialists, the SHA has said it is ready to develop more liver care for patients in the province and likely offer salary support for another hepatologist.
In an email to CBC News, an SHA official said the authority hears the concerns and will ensure a high level of service for patients.