Saturday, September 08, 2007

Don't get prostate cancer in Canada

A shortage of urologists has become so pronounced that patients' lives are at risk, managers of a St. John's-based health authority have been warned. In a powerfully worded letter to the Eastern Health regional authority, urologist Dr. Douglas Drover said an "excessive volume of work" in the specialty has meant waiting times of almost a year for patients seeking treatment.

Drover, who was attending a medical conference last week, was not available for an interview with CBC News. However, his letter lays out a litany of problems. For instance, about 300 patients are waiting for operating room time so that surgery can be performed. Drover is one of just seven urologists practising in Newfoundland and Labrador. He urged Eastern Health to hire more specialists, warning that not to do so would be "tantamount to medical negligence."

Andy Grant, a member of a prostate cancer support group in St. John's, said he is afraid that people will die - or already have - while waiting for surgery. "First of all, [patients deal with] the shock you might have prostate cancer, then the shock of being confirmed with prostate cancer," he said. "Now you have the shock of saying, 'I have to wait until next year?' "

New Democratic Party Leader Lorraine Michael said she was disturbed to learn of the problems that Drover outlined. "I think the word I would use is 'horrified.' I could not believe what was in his letter," she said. "We're sounding like we're in a developing country and not in a province that has the resources that we have."

Health Minister Ross Wiseman said the government is working on a solution to staffing shortages in urology and other areas. "We're in the process now of developing a physician human resource plan, and we hope to be able to, either in the early fall or late winter, roll out that strategy," Wiseman said. [WTF! They need to hire more doctors, not "roll out a strategy"!] "[This] will identify the kinds of specialties and family practice doctors we have - where we need them [and] how many we need - and that will give us then a blueprint for the future."

Drover's letter said Nova Scotia, with less than double the population of Newfoundland, has more than four times the number of urologists, with 29.


When healthcare becomes a privilege rather than something that you buy

'NHS should not treat those with unhealthy lifestyles' say Tories

David Cameron is considering NHS Health Miles Cards to reward clean living. Failing to follow a healthy lifestyle could lead to free NHS treatment being denied under the Tory plans. Patients would be handed "NHS Health Miles Cards" allowing them to earn reward points for losing weight, giving up smoking, receiving immunisations or attending regular health screenings. Like a supermarket loyalty card, the points could be redeemed as discounts on gym membership and fresh fruit and vegetables, or even give priority for other public services - such as jumping the queue for council housing.

But heavy smokers, the obese and binge drinkers who were a drain on the NHS could be denied some routine treatments such as hip replacements until they cleaned up their act. Those who abused the system - by calling an ambulance when a trip to the GP would be sufficient, or telephoning out of hours with needless queries - could also be penalised. The report calls for a greater emphasis on the "citizen's responsibility" to be healthy and says no one should expect taxpayers to fund their unhealthy lifestyles.

Yet while the Health Miles Card would award points for giving up smoking and losing weight, it could penalise those who are already fit and well because they would receive no benefits under the scheme. Also, the NHS already demands that obese patients lose weight before receiving hip replacements. And any moves to impose compulsory cards on patients would provoke a backlash from civil liberties groups.

The Dorrell report also calls for a consultation on raising the smoking age to 18 and for shops to be stripped of their licences if they sell tobacco and alcohol to minors. It proposes a fully-trained nurse to be made available to every school to offer advice on sexual health - but Tory officials stressed they would not be offering children contraceptives. Ministers should divert more attention and funding to public health epidemics which are costing the NHS billions a year, the report says.


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