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There is an acute shortage of beds at New Westminster's Royal Columbian Hospital. ((CBC))

Overcrowding in the emergency ward at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster has become so bad that patients are being forced to sleep in closets, says a senior surgeon.

"There are patients that are literally in closets. They're in the nurses' lounge, where the nurses go to have coffee, there are patients in there," said Dr.Bertrand Perey, the hospital'sdeputy chief of surgery.

He told CBC News that the increase in numbers is having a ripple effect throughout the hospital, the largest in the Fraser Health region.

"In other words, we have an acute shortage of beds in all wards, surgeries have been cancelled because of this overcrowding and it's becoming a much worse problem than it ever was before."

Perey said he's concerned the coming provincial budget will offer no relief. A Fraser Health Authority internal estimate predicts that about 200 acute care beds will be eliminated in the coming year because of rising costs.

Extra money not coming

Former Fraser Health chair Keith Purchase quit last week, telling the health minister the region needs much more money to do its job.

But that's not going to happen in light of Health Minister George Abbott saying the 7.1 per cent increase being offered for the coming year is the best the government can do for hospitals.

He noted that'sa larger increase than any other ministry is receiving, and warned the situation in B.C. hospitals is going to get much worse.

"And in fact, I'm glad to be the health minister of British Columbia at a time when it's relatively easy compared to what I think it's going to be years from now, 10 years from now and 20 years from now, when over 25 per cent of British Columbians will be aged 65plus.

"That is going to have a profound impact on demand for services."