Nfld. & Labrador

Surgery wait-list is getting shorter, says Eastern Health's chief of cardiac care

Dr. Sean Connors says he wants to see the waiting list cut by another two-thirds.

Dr. Sean Connors says he wants to see the waiting list cut by another two-thirds

Dr. Sean Connors, Eastern Health's clinical chief of cardiac care, says the wait-list for surgery has been getting steadily shorter. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Eastern Health's clinical chief of cardiac care says Newfoundland and Labrador's wait-list for heart surgery has been getting shorter this year and he wants to cut it by another two-thirds.

Dr. Sean Connors told CBC News on Monday that the wait list has been getting shorter; it's at about 150 people, down from 200 earlier this year, he said, and the cardiac team wants to be able to cut it by another 100 people.

"We're not where we'd like to be, but I think we're headed in the right direction. We would like to be in a position where we can give every patient that needs heart surgery a date for their surgery," Connors said.

"Not everybody needs it tomorrow. If you're urgent, you stay in hospital and we get it to you in days. If you are well enough to go home we'd like to get it to you within six weeks. So I would like to be in a position where we have maybe six weeks of work — 50 or 60 people on our list."

Connors said about 11 cardiac surgeries are done each week at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's. The health-care system does need to be able to provide surgery faster, he said — 13 people on the waiting list for heart surgery have died since March 2020.

"We only let people wait at home when we think that they're stable and can wait at home. If their symptoms change, they've been told to contact their provider or us and we'll do whatever needs to be done to get their treatment," said Connors. 

"But at the end of the day, when you wait at home with heart disease, things can happen.… When it comes to the heart things can change on a dime."

Crisis or not?

On Monday at the House of Assembly, Progressive Conservative MHA Chris Tibbs spoke about a 44-year-old patient in the Grand Falls-Windsor area who was on the wait-list for a double bypass and was recently sent to Ottawa.

"He started in Grand Falls-Windsor waiting on a stretcher for nine days in the emergency room in the hallways.… That took him to St. John's where he's waited now over two weeks to get heart surgery. Unfortunately it was cancelled twice last week and he's now on his way to Ottawa," Tibbs said.

"I believe the minister has failed this man, this patient, and so many others. If you do not think we are in a crisis, you are completely out to lunch."

Connors says about 11 cardiac surgeries are done each week at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's. (CBC)

But Connors disagrees.

"Cardiac care is not in crisis right now. If you need surgery today, tonight, tomorrow morning, you are going to get surgery and it's going to be great surgery and you will be in good hands," he said.

Health Minister John Haggie said work is being done to reduce the wait list.

"In terms of managing the wait list, there are plans drawn up by Eastern Health and the department and Eastern Health will be discussing those over the next few days," he said.

Connors said the cardiac-care program in Newfoundland and Labrador is building and improving.

While two cardiac surgeons have left since the beginning of the pandemic, and a third is on their way out at the end of May, Connors said Eastern Health has recruited one new heart surgeon, who is expected to start in July. 

He also said a cardiologist who was a head of cardiology in Calgary is coming aboard, and Ottawa surgeons are expected to keep working with Newfoundland and Labrador surgeons for at least five more years.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn


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