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Patient, 81, has four operations postponed

Dec 17 2011

An 81-year-old man has been bumped from surgery at St. Joseph's Hospital four times in the past 18 months.

The latest incident was early Wednesday, when George Harrison was on a gurney about to enter the operating room.

The explanation from hospital staff was that the number of emergency cases meant there would not be an appropriate bed for him after the surgery.

Harrison's wife, Shirley, said staff were profusely apologetic, but added that her husband had suffered abdominal pains for two years and this was the fourth time he had been booked for surgery only to have the operation postponed.

On the previous occasions, he got either two or, in one case, four weeks' notice that it was being put off.

"I really would like to know where all the health-care money is going," said Shirley, of Courtenay. "Here in the Comox Valley, the population is growing by leaps and bounds, yet our hospital still has only four beds in its intensive care unit.

"We were told [on Wednesday] that there were 20 people in the emergency room needing beds."

She blamed senior governments for underfunding healthcare while finding "humungous amounts of cash" for projects like the Olympics, reroofing B.C. Place or building new highways.

"For all our sakes, can we get even a smidge more money going into hospitals so sick people can at least have a chance of surviving?" Shirley said.

"My husband has come out of hospital still in pain and has to sit here in misery until a miracle happens and there's an empty bed in ICU."

The president and chief exec-utive of the hospital, Jane Murphy, said it offered sincere apologies in the rare occurrences when last-minute cancellations to surgery had to be made.

"We are well aware of the effect a cancellation has on a patient and on a family," she said. "We really do feel badly and we do understand."

It was not just a major inconvenience to individuals, but there could also be psychological implications too, she said.

"Staff across the hospital work extremely hard to avoid cancellations," Murphy added. "We pull out all the stops every day to avoid this happening, but sometimes it's impossible to do everything, even though we try."

Situations in which a patient was actually turned back at the doors of the operating room, having been prepared for surgery, were very rare, she said.

While it had happened fewer than five times in the past six months, "knowing that doesn't make us or the family feel any better," she added.

But sometimes the anticipated post-operative care needs of a patient are such that if, for example, the surgeon knew the patient would need an ICU bed, and they were all full, there was no option but to postpone a surgery.

"It's a challenge for us on a daily basis," Murphy said.

"Work in a hospital always ebbs and flows. It is very difficult to predict numbers of patients and the seriousness of their conditions when a hospital is handling emergency room cases."

Murphy confirmed the 24 hours running up to Harrison's planned surgery had been exceptionally busy for the emergency room in Comox.

Whenever there were lastminute surgery cancellations, the hospital worked very hard to reschedule them as quickly as possible, Murphy added.

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