Judy Darcy Presses Health Minister on Colonoscopy Screening Wait Times

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Colonoscopy Waiting Times Too Long, NDP Says

Cindy E. Harnett / Times Colonist
October 29, 2014 05:26 AM – See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/colonoscopy-waiting-times-too-long-ndp-says-1.1479076#sthash.fTDPr0BR.dpuf

Victoria gastroenterologist Dr. David Pearson says the surveillance system for people who have had colon cancer or polyps and need checkups will be flooded in more than a year’s time. “We know there is a tidal wave of followups coming,” said Pearson.

The NDP criticized the wait for colonoscopies in the legislature Tuesday, citing the case of a Qualicum Beach patient. Michael Goldman, 72, had colon-cancer surgery in January 2011 and a benign tumour in June 2013. His gastroenterologist ordered a followup colonoscopy in April of this year to be done by June 2014. “Now they’ve told me December or January,” Goldman said.

Goldman said that when he brought his story to Michelle Stilwell, who represents Parksville-Qualicum and serves as parliamentary secretary to the minister of health, she told him that, personally, she would seek out a private clinic.

Goldman’s comments were raised in the legislature by the NDP on Tuesday.

“What is being proposed here is a two-tier system for colorectal-cancer care. That is not good enough,” said NDP MLA Adrian Dix, former health critic, who asked Health Minister Terry Lake to ensure long wait times are not undermining the impact of the screening program.

Island Health was the first region to roll out the provincial colorectal-cancer screening program in April 2013. It offers a free take-home stool test, called a fecal immunochemical test (FIT), every two years to any average-risk person between the ages of 50 and 74. Screening is also available to those with family history of colon cancer.

The provincial benchmark for a screening colonoscopy resulting from a positive FIT and referral is 60 days.

No sooner did Island Health roll out the program than it was swamped by demand and only able to do half the required colonoscopies from positive tests.

Island Health this year has hired two extra gastroenterologists, and added more hours to hospital endoscopic suites. It’s also in the planning stages of an expanded endoscopic suite at Victoria General Hospital.

Island Health said it now performs FIT-positive screening colonoscopies in an average of 69 days, closer to the benchmark.

But if even half the people who had abnormalities in 2013 were referred for three-year surveillance colonoscopies —the first wave would be 18 months from now — the system is in trouble, Pearson said.

People who have had a previous abnormality identified, typically a polyp, are advised to have another colonoscopy within three to five years, depending on the size and number of polyps found in the previous screening. “The screening program doesn’t have a surveillance wait time yet, because they have not yet started recalling people with previous polyps, since the program has only been operational since mid-2013,” Pearson said.

NDP health critic Judy Darcy said follow-up care for people at risk, such as Goldman, is just as important as stool tests in early detection. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in B.C.

Lake admitted in the legislature that there is a problem with colonoscopy wait times. He said he recently broached the issue with health authority board chairs, telling them they need to ensure “all patients that have to be screened, and then have a colonoscopy and the surgery, are done in a timely manner.”

Lake said he wasn’t familiar with Goldman’s case, but added British Columbians don’t need to go to the private system to get timely health care. “They should be able to rely on the public system.”

Lake and Pearson said gastroenterologists can move a patient up the list for a screening colonoscopy if they deem it necessary.

Island Health projects it will complete 7,500 colonoscopies from positive FITs in 2014-15— triple the number the year the program was introduced.

charnett@timescolonist.com

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