Having 24-hour emergency surgery available in Summerside 'not sustainable,' says national group

·3 min read
Not having surgeons based in Summerside does not mean the end of surgeries in Summerside, says Dr. Mark Walsh. (Prince County Hospital Foundation - image credit)
Not having surgeons based in Summerside does not mean the end of surgeries in Summerside, says Dr. Mark Walsh. (Prince County Hospital Foundation - image credit)

P.E.I. needs to rethink how it is offering surgical services, says the the president of the Canadian Association of General Surgeons.

Last weekend surgery was halted at the Prince County Hospital in Summerside for five days due to a lack of physician coverage. The PCH and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown are where most general or urgent surgeries on P.E.I. are carried out.

Dr. Mark Walsh, president of the Canadian Association of General Surgeons, told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier the root of the problem is the province is simply asking too much of surgeons posted at PCH, who are expected to be on call every other night, which is known in the medical profession as one-in-two.

"Clearly this is not sustainable. I know people would say, 'Oh well, there were guys that were there before.' Many of those other surgeons would work in Charlottetown as well. And a lot of them were trained in a different era," said Walsh.

"That was a model that died 10 or 15 years ago," he said, adding that that is how he was trained.

"People who are trained now are not going to do that. End of story. It's not going to happen."

Mismatch with modern training

Walsh said he knows two of the surgeons P.E.I. is trying to recruit, and they are eager to go to Summerside, but he predicted they will not last.

"They may go for a year, but they will very quickly get burned out," he said.

It is not just an issue of how much the surgeons are on call, he said. It is also about the care they are trained to provide. Smaller hospitals, such as PCH, do not have the kind of support services surgeons need, Walsh said.

"It's not just the surgeon, it's the whole hospital and what [resources] can they provide," he said. "And those don't exist at the second hospital, really."

No need to close hospitals

The solution, Walsh said, is to centralize 24-hour surgical services at one hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown.

Given P.E.I.'s size and population, he said, having just one surgical centre poses no problems.

"It's a political decision, not a medical one," said Walsh.

This does not mean closing smaller hospitals in other parts of the province, but rather that 24-hour emergency services would only be done at the QEH.

"I'm not saying close down these other little hospitals, but these other little hospitals can provide day surgical services ... elective surgical services," like hernia operations, he said.

"There's two roles for these hospitals. One is to provide health care and the other, unsaid but very true role, is to provide jobs for that community," he said.

"We're not saying close the hospitals. We're saying repurpose them."

Having all the surgeons based in Charlottetown would not necessarily mean the end of surgery outside of the QEH. Walsh is based in Halifax, but said he regularly travels to nearby community hospitals to perform day surgeries.

Walsh said he has not talked to anyone at the P.E.I. Department of Health or Health PEI about these issues, but he would be more than happy to.

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