MSP patients may have access to private surgeries 

Proposal to pay for 'compassionate' surgeries is illegal

The first step to ensure ordinary Whistler residents will have access to a proposed private surgery in Creekside is now underway, according to its main proponent, Dr. Mark Godley.

Godley, an anesthetist at the False Creek Surgical Centre in Vancouver, has asked the provincial government to consider paying for certain types of operations in the private system.

If the government agrees to cover Medical Service Plan patients, then Godley feels he is making headway for a proposed private satellite surgical centre in Whistler – a place he said must be accessible to all Canadians, not just the ones who can afford it.

"We have to start somewhere for people to understand that facilities like the False Creek Surgical Centre and the facility that we would like to have in Whistler would be able to have a very important part to play in the delivery of health care for everybody's needs," said Godley.

His request however, is still illegal under the Canada Health Act.

Dr. Bruce Mohr, chief of staff at the Whistler Health Care Centre, said that while the government is certainly opening up discussions to private and public partnerships, it is still too soon to tell if they will pay for MSP patients in private facilities.

"The rules would have to change in order for there to be access for MSP patients in a private facility," he cautioned.

"We don't have any guarantees yet."

Godley's recent request to Health Minister Colin Hansen is in direct response to the growing list of 70,000 people who are waiting for surgery in B.C.

That list has been exacerbated with the recent job action by B.C. doctors during which 1,200 operations where cancelled.

"We're getting calls continually from people who are in desperate need of surgery," said Godley.

One patient was so desperate and suffering so much pain from a herniated disc about three weeks ago, Godley offered surgical services for free at the False Creek Surgical Centre.

After one and half-hours of surgery, followed by an overnight stay, the Abbotsford patient was relieved of his back pain.

Still, Godley's proposal doesn't open the floodgates for everyone on the surgery waiting list.

He has asked the government fork out the $1,800 in surgical fees for only the compelling cases.

Godley included a list of four criteria:

• if the person is in pain and suffering;

• if there was financial hardship to the family or the individual involved then it's only fair that the surgery be done in a timely fashion so they can get back into the workforce;

• if the surgical condition was worsening and they were going to end up with long-standing damage because they were waiting for surgery;

• and cancer victims need priority surgery, be it for treatment or diagnostic purposes.

"It (is) very much a compassionate plea and it's not obviously for everybody and not everybody can access the facilities like this as much as we would like to, but we have to start somewhere," he said.

This is the second time Godley has asked the provincial government to make private facilities more accessible.

Two years ago, there was a huge backlog in surgeries, caused by striking union workers, he said.

"People were basically victims of the system in that they weren't getting timely access to surgery," he recalled.

But a similar proposal to the NDP government at the time was ignored.

"They basically laughed us off so people stayed on the wait list. They never got the opportunity to come here," he said.

To date, Godley has not had a response from the provincial government.

"It's a slow machine," he said wearily.

Godley's plan for a satellite surgery centre in Whistler is scheduled to come before council on June 17.

The surgery is part of a development proposal, which includes a new train station, a North Shore Credit Union, the development of 11 single family lots and the surgical centre at the end of Lake Placid Road in Creekside.

The developers are hoping to complete the project in two years.

Godley has been adamant all Whistler residents should have access to the private surgery whether they can pay for it or not.

He said: "We believe that by the time that surgery is open, everybody is going to be able to access it."

Health Minister Colin Hansen was not available for comment.


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