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Island Health responds to Campbell River pathologist’s concerns

CAMPBELL RIVER, B.C- A change in pathology services at the Campbell River hospital is causing some concern from a hospital pathologist.

According to a recent report from the Campbell River Mirror, Dr. Aref Tabarsi, division head of general pathology for the North Island, is unhappy with a decision he says was made by Island Health to send all clinical pathology testing to the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathologists Consulting Corporation (VICPCC) in Victoria.

Tabarsi told the paper that the sending of all testing to the VICPCC would delay test results, make those tests less reliable, and force patients to travel long distances for biopsies of bone marrow. He also described the changes as an “erosion” to public healthcare.

Island Health has responded to the concerns of Tabarsi. According to Dr. David Robertson, the executive medical director for Island Health’s laboratory program, pharmacy, medical imaging, and Geography Three, the move for all testing to be sent to Victoria is the result of a decision made by VICPCC to stop sub-contracting services at the hospital.

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Robertson also told both the paper and the newsroom that the company’s contract with Island Health will be reviewing in 2020. He also told the paper that there is a possibility of hiring a third pathologist at the Campbell River hospital.

When speaking to the newsroom, Robertson indicated that the company was already providing pathology services to the Campbell River hospital for around a third of the year, “for some years”.

“They already provide that service to the residents of Campbell River, for somewhere round about 18 weeks a year, when either of the two pathologists are in Campbell River are away on holiday or at conferences,” said Robertson.

He also responded to whether or not he believed Tabarsi’s concerns were valid.

“Some of the messages that came though were a little bit open to misinterpretation,” said Robertson.

“The idea that it was going to a private contractor, the pathologists in the pathologist consulting corporation, are all physicians working within the public system. This is not a private laboratory, and it happens to be a group of them who have incorporated their practice, but many physicians incorporate their practices. I’m sure most in BC do, I don’t know that, but I’m sure many do. This is not unusual, that they have incorporated. They happen to be in a group, and this group of physicians, all are either specially trained in clinical pathology or spend at least half of their working life doing clinical pathology.”

Reporting from the Campbell River Mirror has indicated that the VICPCC does not have a very high public profile, and contact information for doctors that are in the company has not been publicly released.

As for whether or not the contract between Island Health and the company was a good idea in the first place, Robertson stated a belief that there was going to be more specialization in the future.

“My hair is now white, but when I was younger, almost all pathologist’s were general pathologists,” said Robertson.

“The majority are becoming specialist pathologists, and so what we’re seeing here is a progressive move, and we’re confident in the work of the Vancouver Island Clinical Pathology Consulting Corporation in providing specialized clinical pathology services. Many of the members of that corporation are general pathologists, who happen to spend a larger amount of time doing clinical pathology, so there is still much very work for general pathologists in clinical pathology, but we are moving progressively towards a more specialized world.”

Robertson also indicated that the decision in 2020 during review of the contract wouldn’t entirely up to Island Health, with the Provincial Health Services Authourity playing a role as well.

As for whether or not there will be any consequences for Tabarsi speaking his mind, Robertson indicated that there would be none.

“No, he’s very much advocating for his beliefs, so while we might have disagreements, we deal with them in a very collaborative manner,” said Robertson.

Both Tabarsi and Robertson will be at the board meeting for the Comox Strathcona Regional Hospital District Board on Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m.

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