Dr. Ronald Chapman
Vice-President of Medicine, Northern Health
Northern Health places a high importance on providing high quality services to residents of northern B.C., and that includes ophthalmology services. Recognizing that there is an aging population, and that the demand for ophthalmology services continues to increase, we’re working on solutions to improve services across the region. There have been a number of recent media reports about ophthalmology services and I’d like to provide further explanation.
We currently have ophthalmology services available in Terrace, Fort St. John, and Prince George. Ophthalmologists can diagnose all disorders that affect the eye, including cataracts and refractive errors such as nearsightedness. An ophthalmologist can carry out any medical or surgical treatment as necessary for these conditions. In Northern Health, we do not have any current ophthalmologist vacancies. Further recruitment of ophthalmologists could occur in the future depending on demand and capacity. The number of cataract surgeries in northern B.C. continue to increase year over year.
There is always work to be considered in terms of prioritizing operating room time. This includes ensuring the allocations of operating rooms. Extensive work has been completed in Terrace over the past two years to improve operating room procedures. This has resulted in improved access to care for patients such as reduced wait times. In Prince George, there is currently a challenge with the sharing of operating room time with our surgeons. This is a process we’ve been working to resolve for approximately one year, and we’re hopeful we will come to a conclusion this summer. Northern Health has completed a request for qualifications to increase ophthalmology surgical capacity, and we are in the process of finalizing a contract. It is expected the increased surgical capacity will be in place for the summer of 2015, and will improve access to service for residents of Prince George and the surrounding area.
As many Northern Health communities have one specialist position, we routinely plan for holiday or sick leave. Leaves of absence occur occasionally with staff and physicians for a number of reasons, including unexpected circumstances. Currently, the ophthalmologist in Terrace is away on personal leave that is expected to last approximately three months. During the ophthalmologist’s leave of absence, there are locums providing ophthalmology services in Terrace to ensure residents have timely access to care. There may be urgent cases that need to be seen in Prince George, which would include potential travel time for patients. Northern Health Connections bus is available as an affordable transportation option for people with out-of-town health care appointments, if necessary.
People have a strong vested interest in their health, and we have an extremely vested interest in providing care in a timely manner. If you feel that your condition has changed dramatically while waiting for a referral or surgery, we encourage you to speak with your health care provider for a reassessment. We will continue working with the ophthalmologists in the region to improve access to care.