An ailing patient at Surrey Memorial Hospital fears his surgery is being delayed because of a months-old dispute between doctors and the Fraser Health Authority.

Robert Almeida has been hooked up to morphine and bound to a wheelchair since breaking his ankle Friday night. "I wake up with throbbing and I start getting shooting pain through my ankle and up my leg," he said.

Almeida first checked into hospital in Burnaby, but was redirected to Surrey for treatment. Three days later, he is still waiting.

"They said that there was some kind of job action going on," he said.

That job action stems from a disagreement between orthopedic surgeons and Fraser Health that began last spring.

In April, Fraser Health downgraded orthopedic surgeons' Medical On-Call Availability Program (MOCAP) level from 2 to 1. At level 1, doctors are required to respond to emergency calls within 45 minutes. At level 2, they are given two hours to respond, but for less pay.

Dr. Peter Blair, medical director of the Fraser Health regional surgical program, said the difference is about $162 per shift. "It's felt the level 2 fits in appropriately for orthopedic emergencies," he said.

The surgeons disagree, and in protest have set up their own system that places patients on a priority list.

"The system prioritizes our patients on the basis of their injury, the severity of their injury, and we deal with them accordingly," Dr. David Wickham of the BC Orthopedic Association said.

Fraser Health serves roughly 1.5 million people. After hours, there is just one orthopedic surgeon on call. After that surgeon receives five calls, a new surgeon comes on – but they may be at another hospital, forcing patients to travel.

Wickham says Fraser Health's decision to downgrade the MOCAP level puts patients in the region at a disadvantage.

"Any B.C. resident that lives in Fraser Health should be entitled to the same response time and orthopedic care as they would in any other health authority in the province," he said.

Asked for comment, Health Minister Kevin Falcon said he believed patients are being impacted by the dispute and called on surgeons and the health authority to "sit down and work out issues around remuneration and what they get paid for being on call separately."

Fraser Health says the wait time for ankle surgery is about five days – a hard pill to swallow for Almeida, who has been told the procedure would only take about half an hour.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Norma Reid