It appears Maureen Hafstein and other Parkinson’s patients like her will continue to wait on one of the longest lists in the country for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery, despite the fact that the waiting may make them miss their chance at the procedure altogether.
Shuswap MLA Greg Kyllo said after repeatedly being told Health Minister Adrian Dix would get back to him last week, he informed the Observer he had heard from Dix on Monday morning.
“He was careful in his comments, saying that the health authorities are allocated base funding for surgeries and they are in the best position to make the determination about where there are the greatest pressures and the greatest needs,” said Kyllo.
Kyllo says the argument that health-care decisions should not be coming from government is valid, but he notes there have been a number of cases where governments have become involved in such decisions.
He points to the situation where the government is providing targeted health-care funding specifically for performing hip and knee replacement surgeries and reducing wait times.
“He reluctantly agreed there was a decision made to target those wait times,” Kyllo said. “It’s kind of like picking winners and losers here.”
Dix’s office did not respond to the Observer’s request for an interview.
Meanwhile Hafstein says she is not giving up in her quest to bring attention to the wait list issue for Parkinson’s patients throughout B.C.
“To think that a province of our size has only one surgeon… The people of B.C. deserve better from our medical system. I will pursue the option of going out of province for surgery if I have to,” Hafstein said by text, as her Parkinson’s impairs her ability to speak.
Dix’s office gave an email address for the chief of surgery at Vancouver General to Kyllo to give to Hafstein and suggested she take her case to him. But Hafstein isn’t sure this would change anything and says solving her own issue won’t help the other patients still waiting on the list.
“I want to be clear that I am not wanting to jump ahead of anyone in line. I am asking for increased funding so that everyone will benefit,” she said.
Hafstein plans to continue her letter-writing campaign and is still going to try and arrange a face-to-face meeting with Dix to discuss the situation.
Kyllo says the DBS surgery in B.C. is funded at a cost of approximately $1 million a year.
Only one doctor in B.C., Dr. Christopher Honey, is currently performing the procedure at either Vancouver General or UBC. This compares to Alberta, which has two surgeons performing DBS, Quebec has four, Manitoba has two and Saskatchewan has two. The Canadian average for DBS surgery is one surgeon for every two million people. In B.C. the rate is one surgeon for 4.5 million.
Parkinson’s Disease is a complex degenerative brain disorder that affects a person’s ability to move. While DBS is not a cure, it can provide a significant impact on the patient’s health and quality of life — often helping to slow the progression of the disease for many years. For the DBS surgery to have benefits, it must be done within a certain window of time. If the patient’s symptoms become too severe, the operation no longer has a good chance of success and those patients become no longer eligible for the procedure.
Currently, Honey says most of his patients are waiting two years and he notes the B.C. standard target for surgical wait time is supposed to be 26 weeks.
Honey has trained another surgeon to perform DBS surgery, but without funding from the government for this surgeon and for equipping another operating room, no additional DBS procedures can be scheduled.
Honey says lobbying for additional funding has been an education in the political system.
“My patients, you see, have very complex medical needs and many of them are simply too ill to advocate for themselves. They are quiet and suffer mostly in silence… There’s only about 70 to 80 people I see each year. Any politician can afford to lose 70 to 80 votes.”