Horizon Health dealing with thoracic surgery coverage 'crisis'

The Saint John and Moncton areas won't have any thoracic surgery coverage for at least a month — a situation described as a "crisis" in an internal Horizon Health Network email, obtained by CBC News.

Thoracic surgeons deal with all structures of the chest, with the exception of the heart, including the esophagus, lungs, chest muscle and diaphragm muscle.

They treat diseases ranging from gastroesophageal reflux to lung and esophageal cancers, remove benign tumours, perform chest reconstruction after major traumas, and handle lung transplants.

Dr. David Tees, chief of surgery for the Saint John area, sent an "urgent" memo to all members of the department of family medicine about the staffing shortage on Feb. 28.

"We have found ourselves in the difficult position of having no thoracic surgery coverage in Saint John or Moncton for at least four weeks," the email states.

"Unfortunately, I have just been informed by the chief of thoracic in Halifax that they are swamped with limited resources and have no ability to absorb our patients except for perhaps acute perforation of esophagus."

"We are working on finding a solution to this crisis."

Tees noted that a Fredericton doctor would "hopefully be able to assist in the very short term."

"In the meantime, I ask that you use our local expertise for diagnosis, trauma, and chest tube management as best possible."

'Not ideal'

It's unclear how many patients are affected.

CBC News requested an interview with Horizon and received a four-sentence statement from medical director Dr. David Marr via email.

"The Saint John Regional Hospital has a thoracic surgeon on staff, however, he will be unavailable for a few weeks," wrote Marr.

"Presently, general surgery service, along with the respirologists, are helping out with patient care. This situation is not ideal but not dissimilar as to when other specialists are away or on call.

"We have made arrangements with surgeons in Fredericton and Moncton for urgent cases."