London News & Search
Wait times for thyroid and endocrine cancer surgeries at London Health Sciences Centre are the longest in the province — and its statistics for liver and pancreatic cancer surgeries aren’t much better, new figures show.
Thyroid and endocrine cancer patients in the rest of the province typically wait 26 days from referral to a specialist appointment, but the wait for LHSC patients is 54 days, based on statistics from January to March 2017 posted on the provincial government’s new wait-time website.
Patients who have met with a specialist and are awaiting surgery on the hormone-producing glands at LHSC typically wait 91 days, the longest in the province and well above Ontario’s 54-day average.
For liver and pancreatic cancer surgery, the hospital’s patients typically wait 20 days from the time they’re referred to their first specialist appointment, the longest in the province. The length from decision to surgery averages 26 days, the second-longest in Ontario after St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto.
LHSC, a regional hub for liver and pancreatic cancer surgery, has lost two specialists in the last few years, all the while taking in patients from Sarnia to Windsor to Tobermory, said Cathy Vandersluis, vice-president of surgical services, cardiac care and neurosciences.
“To date, one specialist has been recruited to LHSC to help address the wait times,” she said. “We continue to work with system partners to assess opportunities to further improve performance.”
As for the lag in thyroid and endocrine surgeries, Vandersluis said the regional health-care hub has a finite pool of specialized surgeons who also operate on more complex and pressing head and neck cancers.
“Out of necessity we tend to prioritize those serious head and neck cancers as far as being seen through clinics and then gaining access to the operating room,” she said.
“Thyroid cancer, which generally speaking is usually seen as a less serious cancer, sometimes get prioritized later.”
The wait times for surgeries and procedures were added last week to the Health Quality Ontario website (www.hqontario.ca).
Though it depends on many factors, the average five-year survival rate for thyroid cancer is 98 per cent, the Canadian Cancer Society says. The society estimates 7,100 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer this year in Canada. About 220 will die from the disease.
Even so, Vandersluis said it’s important to get thyroid patients into surgery quickly because the procedure itself often helps doctors diagnose cancer.
The London hospital is funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care to do 160 thyroid and 52 endocrine cancer surgeries this fiscal year, a number they’re on target to reach. But that wasn’t the case in the past, when the hospital didn’t manage to meet its funded surgery targets, meaning it had the financial ability to perform more procedures than it did.
“Historically, over the years, we have not been able to meet the volumes that we’re funded for, for thyroid surgeries,” Vandersluis said.
“We have not felt good about that.”
Though LHSC is well above the provincial targets for wait times on lung, gynecological and neurological cancers, it is trying hard to improve its numbers.
LHSC has even rolled out a new way to run its operating rooms that maximizes the number of thyroid cancer patients it sees in a work day.
“It used to be (the surgeons) might do a big head and neck cancer and then throw a couple of thyroid cases at the end of the day,” Vandersluis said.
Now, on days when thyroid surgeries are happening, the operating room is set up specifically for the procedure — no need to change the whole room configuration between patients.
“We took a page from our car industry. It would be ridiculous for Toyota to set up a line and in the morning run through Priuses, and doing RAV4s in the afternoon,” she said.
“It’s just a repetitive, factory-focused approach that then allows you to do more cases.”
Under the old operating room model, the hospital could tackle about four thyroid cancer surgeries in an eight-hour day. With the new approach, they can do seven to nine cases in the same time.
“We always aim to do right for our cancer patients as quickly as possible,” Vandersluis said.
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LHSC CANCER SURGERY WAIT TIMES
Better than provincial average:
Lung, gynecological, neurological, head and neck
Worse than provincial average:
Thyroid and endocrine, breast, liver, pancreatic and gastrointestinal
Source: Health Quality Ontario
London News & Search