Healthcare was up for debate again in Question Period on Monday (March 6, 2017). Here are some excerpts from an exchange between Health Minister Terry Lake (Kamloops-North Thompson) and NDP MLAs Judy Darcy (New Westminster), Selina Robinson (Coquitlam-Maillairdville) and Harry Bains (Surrey Newton) on emergency services at hospitals.
J. Darcy: Last week the Premier was asked questions about patients stuck in hallways, sometimes for days, waiting in care. She dismissed it with a glib answer, saying: “It’s tough to build a church big enough for Easter.”
At Peace Arch Hospital in Surrey, Fran Nesbitt, who is 86 years old, spent three full days in the emergency room, in Surrey–White Rock, in a hallway, with a fractured pelvis. Does the Minister of Health think it’s too tough to build a health care system so that Fran doesn’t have to wait three days with a broken pelvis?
Hon. T. Lake: We’ve canvassed this many times, and I, certainly, can empathize and sympathize with people waiting for care in a very busy hospital, and we know that this year has been especially busy. The members opposite may dismiss the facts that we’ve had a very difficult influenza season that’s affected seniors more than other years. We’ve had unusual winter where more people have slipped and injured themselves and have to be seen at emergency. We’re in the middle of an opioid epidemic, the biggest public health crisis we have seen. All of this has put pressure on emergency departments. On that we all agree.
But we are working hard, and every health authority is working hard to address these issues in each and every hospital across this province, and we will continue to address these issues.
But as far as building a health care system, I have a list of $11 billion worth of investment in health care. So if the opposition members want to talk about a record on building a health care system, I’m happy to have that discussion.
Madame Speaker: The member for New Westminster on a supplemental.
J. Darcy: …The Liberals like to talk about a busy flu season, and the Premier loves to give glib answers about building churches for Easter, but that is cold comfort for Fran Nesbitt, left to lie in a busy hallway for three long days.
The emergency room crisis at Peace Arch and throughout Fraser Health is a direct result of this government’s failures. When is this government going to fix it so that people like Fran get the health care that she deserves?
Hon. T. Lake: Firstly, I’ll say this. Our Premier is anything but glib. She was the one, when her mom was ill, who went in every day to look after her mom and help the hospital staff. She knows more than anybody how hard people in hospitals work to care for their patients. So to call her glib I think does a disservice to everyone who has a member of their family in the hospital that goes and looks after them.
I’ve had two discussions with the CEO of Fraser Health over the weekend. We are, together, putting an action plan in place. Over the weekend, additional community care and diagnostic staff were brought in to ease pressure, and 15 flex-beds were opened at Abbotsford, five opened at Mission. This plan will be overseen by my associate deputy minister.
There are many different strategies being employed to ease the congestion issue, but everyone is working hard — no more exemplified than by the front-line workers: the physicians, the nurses, the health care staff at all of our hospitals….
Madame Speaker: The member for Coquitlam-Maillardville on a supplemental.
S. Robinson: Well, I’ve been in that hospital in October, and then I had the misfortune of being there in November, and then of course, again in January. And every single time I was there, those rooms were empty and people were waiting in hallways. Nothing has changed.
After holding Jean in the lobby for 36 hours and then moving her to an empty block in the hospital, she was finally able to get access to some nursing and some housekeeping resources, which were really stretched to limit, because there are not enough nurses and staff in the hospital to make sure that patients are getting the care they need in that hospital.
But to add insult to injury, included on her meal tray was a letter soliciting donations for the hospital foundation. The hospital foundation already has a really tough job to do, raising money for the hospital.
So does the minister really think that by keeping people in hallways, people like Jean, that is really helpful for the hospitals and for the patients of British Columbia?
Hon. T. Lake: The member asked what has changed. I’ll let the member know what has changed. Last year, we successfully hired 1,700 nurses across the province. Since 2001, we’ve invested over $11 billion in the Lower Mainland. So $475 million for Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, $237 million for the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey, $500 million for the emergency department and critical care tower in Surrey, $543 million for the Teck Acute Care Centre at B.C. Children’s Hospital.
In the Interior, $417 million towards the new patient care tower in Kamloops and $381 million for the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre in Kelowna.
The list includes every part of this province. That is what has changed. …
H. Bains: This minister can blame it on weather. He can blame it on flu season. But the nurses and the doctors in hospitals know the truth. The truth is incompetence and neglect by this government.
At Surrey Memorial Hospital, a doctor said: “People will die because of the failure of this government.” He went on to say this: “It is happening now, and it will continue to get worse.”
Madame Speaker: Members.
H. Bains: “It is happening now, and it will continue to worse.”
My question to the minister is, again, this. How bad must it get before this minister will take action to protect the patients lying in the hallway at Surrey Memorial Hospital?
Madame Speaker: Members.
Hon. T. Lake: Again, the consummate professionals that work in our hospitals understand there are going to be busy times of the year. It is up to us to work with them, to make sure we put into action plans that alleviate that congestion. That is why I spoke with the CEO of Fraser Health over the weekend a couple of times, to make sure that we had plans in place….
But $11 billion of investment, and I have a lot more on the list if the opposition members would like me to go through it, because I know while they didn’t build a single hospital in the 1990s, they did close one. We have not done that.
Madame Speaker: Surrey-Newton on a supplemental.
H. Bains: The minister can live in the past, but the problem is now. Nurses say that the problem across Fraser Health is getting worse. Doctors say that people are going to die because of it. And the Liberals claim it’s a flu season….Let me ask the minister a question again. When will the minister stop blaming the weather, stop blaming the flu season and fix the problem with the hallway medicine at Surrey Memorial Hospital?
Hon. T. Lake: The people of British Columbia are thankful that we don’t live in the past, because in the past, nothing got done. If the members opposite, when they formed government, had actually increased the number of spaces for medical graduates, we’d have 1,000 more doctors today. We’ve increased first-year medical students from 128 to 288. We’ve added 4,800 new nursing education spaces, increased the number of residency positions 800 percent and increased the number of nurses practising in B.C. to 55,000.