Some New Brunswick cancer patients upset over loss of specialized surgeon

Some cancer patients in New Brunswick are worried their care may be compromised after a highly specialized surgeon recently shut down his practice in Moncton.

Ingrid and Bruce Munn of Holtville, N.B. say they received a letter last week from Ingrid’s surgeon that made them both very anxious.

According to the letter, Dr. Paul Renfrew, a specialist who she says operated on her liver cancer and saved her life – shut down his practice at the end of February.

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“He’s one good doctor, that one,” Ingrid said.

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“Oh it’s been hard, it keeps you worried all the time” Bruce said.

In the letter, Renfrew wrote that as his practice grew it put a greater demand on hospital resources.

“I have faced mounting pressure from the Moncton Hospital and the Horizon Health Network, regarding the length of my surgical procedures,” he said in the letter.

Renfrew wrote that the Horizon Health Network put restrictions on the lengthy Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) surgeries he performs on people with liver, and other abdominal cancers. He wrote, “This put me in a difficult situation as I felt I could not provide proper care without violating these conditions/restrictions.”

So he chose to close his practice in Moncton.

“I think what he was doing was costing them more.  But it was worth it to save people’s lives,” Bruce said.

Renfrew could not be reached for comment, but Horizon Health has confirmed that he has resigned.

“For confidentiality reasons, we cannot comment on the circumstances surrounding Dr. Renfrew’s departure except to confirm that Dr. Renfrew resigned from his position at the Moncton Hospital. We would also like to thank Dr. Renfrew for his service. We are currently in recruitment for a permanent replacement,”  stated Dr. Édouard Hendriks, the network’s vice president of medical, academic and research affairs.

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Renfrew’s close colleague Moncton Oncologist Dr. Mohammed Harb said it is a big loss.  He said Renfrew is the only doctor in the province who performs more complicated HPB surgeries.

“I am really sad to see my colleague leaving. He was really an excellent surgeon and he really did help us a lot with his knowledge and input,” Harb said.

He said losing Refrew will put a heavier workload on him as he now coordinates with a surgical team in Halifax to perform his HPB surgeries until a replacement is found.

But he assures his patients that their care won’t be impacted.  He says he has formed a close working relationship with the “highly skilled” Halifax HPB surgical team and is confident his patients will be cared for quickly.

“So far I have been sending a couple of patients and there was no delay whatsoever.”

Harb said it will be a challenge to fill Dr. Renfrew’s position because there are not many surgeons in the country skilled in performing such complex surgeries.  But he said he is confident the position will be filled.

Dr. Shiva Jayaramn of Toronto is president of the Canadian Hepato-Panreato-Biliary Association.  In a telephone interview with Global News  he said, “There are only about 60 to 70” surgeons trained in performing complicated HPB surgeries in all of Canada.  He said most of the surgeons work in teams, so unless New Brunswick is considering hiring two surgeons, recruiting one to fill a sole position in Moncton “may be a challenge.”

In the meantime, Bruce said traveling to Halifax will be a burden on his wife, who was recently told there are two new spots on her liver and she may require a second surgery.

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“To have to drive to Halifax and stay down there and cost ya more money when you go,” Bruce said.

Meanwhile, Ingrid is holding out hope that Renfrew will return and is calling on Horizon Health to “bring him back.”