Doctors fear fate of pathology department

A potential shortage of pathologists at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital has doctors responding to what could be a “crisis” situation.

A potential shortage of pathologists at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital has the region’s doctors responding to what could be a “crisis” situation.

The former chief of surgery at KBRH, Dr. Andre De Greef, said doctors are concerned that within five months the entire pathology department at the hospital could be gone.

One of KBRH’s two pathologists tendered his resignation in November, and he will be leaving at the end of December. The other has indicated he intends to resign, but his notice period requires him to stay until the end of May.

Since pathologists support every facet of medicine at the hospital — from cancer diagnosis to general surgery — Interior Health Authority’s solution to farm the work out to other hospitals in the region until two new doctors could be found is not workable, said De Greef.

In the summer when one pathologist was away on holidays, De Greef said doctors in Trail had to wait a few weeks for results, which would normally come back within the week.

“If now we wait five weeks, six weeks for results it is going to impact on the patient’s treatment, it’s going to impact on how well that patient will deal with (their problem),” he said. “(They) need to act now because we don’t want a crisis here.”

The doctors met with IHA two weeks ago about the matter, urging the authority to begin advertising for the positions.

But the IHA is actively recruiting to bring in two pathologists now that one has officially resigned, said Mal Griffin, IHA regional director of Lab Services.

There is an acute shortage of pathologists nation-wide which makes it difficult to recruit them, he said. Medical schools are not turning out many pathologists, Griffin explained, and it takes 13 years to fully train in the specialty.

“It is a challenge and … we have had difficulty recruiting pathologists to any of our locations within Interior Health, but it is doubly difficult to recruit into some of our small communities,” he said.

Therefore, IHA is actively recruiting locums, pathologists outside the province and the authority who are willing to come in and do short-term or medium-term periods of work.

“At the end of the day the patients will still get the care they need,” Griffin said. “While it is not ideal to not have a full complement of pathologists within the Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital, we are still going to make sure the slides are read, the diagnoses are made and the patients are treated appropriately.”

In January a contingency plan will be put in place to have some pathology work sent out to other locations. In reading off site it takes an extra day to have the slides transported, Griffin said, but there are recommended targets for reading times set out by the College of Pathologists for expected turnaround diagnoses.

“We will lose a day, but the reading time doesn’t take any longer than it would in Trail,” he said, adding special cases will be made for emergencies.

Although KBRH carries a Rural Retention Incentive for any doctor that accepts employment at the Trail hospital, the IHA is only allowed to pay a rate negotiated through the contracts outlined by the B.C. Medical Association.