Opinion

Stewart: Retinal surgery a no go here

I along with other local MLAs, am well aware of the concerns of many in the Okanagan who require retinal surgery.

They wish the procedure was available closer to home in Kelowna at the Kelowna General Hospital. I sympathize with anyone who needs specific medical care that isn’t offered in their hometown.

But these individuals must understand that it’s simply not feasible for KGH to offer every conceivable surgical procedure—especially when it’s available 150 kilometres away.

We recognize that this is an important issue, so, as a group, we asked Interior Health to assess the need for retinal surgery at KGH.

The health authority did its homework on the issue. It conducted an in-depth review of the current patient volume in the Okanagan and other important factors to build a business case and assess the implications.

But in this case and at this time, there simply aren’t enough patients from the Okanagan requiring this surgery to sustain a new service at KGH.

In B.C., retinal surgery is available in Vancouver, Victoria and by Interior Health at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

Other health authorities, like the Vancouver Island Health Authority and Northern Health, also offer retinal surgery at a single site.

In Vancouver, they have a larger patient population to draw from and have two sites.

While it may present challenges to those who are required to travel, this is not unlike other specialized services that are regionally or provincially based. It is a model that works effectively to ensure that quality specialized medical services are accessible to all British Columbians, without increasing the burden on taxpayers.

That said, the health authority will continue to monitor the service, as it does with any service, and consider changes in the future as needed.

I also commit to remain engaged with concerned patients and physicians as well as Interior Health moving forward.

As part of its patient-centred approach, Interior Health and the province have invested in KGH to address the most pressing local needs.

For example, the $218 million Centennial Building contains larger operating rooms, a new ambulatory care department and modern infection control standards.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. In total, the Kelowna and Vernon Hospital project, and the new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre at KGH, represent almost $1 billion in health care investments in the Okanagan.

Interior Health has an annual operating budget of $1.8 billion. With this budget it provides high quality medical services to a population of more than 700,000 people across 216,000-square-kilometers.

While providing retinal surgery at KGH would benefit local residents who require the procedure, the business case must first be there and the demand must be sufficient to ensure the service is sustainable.

I would like to thank everyone for sharing their concerns.

It is important that we continue to discuss issues as important as health care to ensure that residents of the Okanagan continue to receive the quality service we deserve.

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