MICHELE BEATON: Wait times

Since being elected, I have heard countless stories of long wait times in our healthcare system — from ER waits to waiting for needed surgeries. It is heartbreaking to hear from families whose loved one is living in agonizing pain for months, and often years, while they wait for help.

Although long wait times are nothing new, I have been hearing from a growing number of healthcare workers who are worried that our already long wait times are getting worse. One way this can change is if the Dennis King government starts to actually value and respect our frontline workers.

MRI and CT wait times

A patient in PEI can expect to wait up to 214 days for a non-urgent MRI scan – for example, imaging required for a knee surgery. The “target” length to wait for a non-urgent MRI should be less than 84 days. This is the length of time that Canadian experts say is an appropriate, maximum length of time for most patients (90%) to wait. Waiting longer than this can negatively affect patients’ health. Only 25% of Island patients receive an MRI during the target time.

Delays in getting these surgeries can mean that the person not only lives in terrible pain for a longer period of time, but they will also physically get worse.

For a CT scan, the wait time is 106 days for Island patients who are deemed non-urgent. The “target” length to wait for a non-urgent CT is 56 days. Access to imaging services affect health in a number of ways. One of the most devastating effects is delays for needed surgeries. Knee and hip replacements require a number of imaging scans before and after surgery. Delays in getting images can delay a surgery.

Delays in getting these surgeries can mean that the person not only lives in terrible pain for a longer period of time, but they will also physically get worse. I have heard many horrible stories from Islanders who had to endure significant pain during year-long wait times for these very necessary surgeries.

 

The Importance of Quality of Life

Quality of life has to have a role in these very political decisions.

I spoke to an athletic Islander in his 30s who waited almost a year for an MRI on his knee. He shared the toll this had physically but also the toll it had on his mental health. his knee deteriorated so much that he could no longer walk around the block without the use of a cane.

Another man in his 70s who was an avid golfer that walked 18 holes regularly who needed a hip replacement spent the year of waiting with increasing pain resulting in him needing a walker for mobility. He started having back pain from compensating for his hip and hunching over his walker.

I also heard from a grandmother that was scared to pick up her granddaughter while she was waiting for knee surgery because her knee would give out. During the time she was waiting for her surgery, she depended so much on her healthy leg that it resulted in that knee deteriorating to the point of needing surgery as well. She had to go through it all over again.

Currently on PEI, patients wait 348 days, pretty much a year, for a hip replacement. The wait time for most knee replacement surgeries is up to 413 days. That’s over a year of waiting in pain as you slowly lose your mobility and independence.

Why are we limiting the time for testing?

An Islander asked me why we don’t run testing for more hours a day. It was a great question.
The number of images required is increasing because of our aging population and overall growth but we haven’t increased the number of people needed to operate the equipment to keep up with the demand.

Islanders donate millions of dollars every year to purchase equipment but government has not budgeted for the actual people to use the equipment. They expect healthcare professionals to do more with the same and often with less.

The problem is not just long wait times

We need to start looking at every aspect of these long wait times. Yes, we need surgeons, but we also need to ensure that we have enough allied health professionals like Medical Radiation Technologists (MRTs) who are responsible for running our imaging systems like the MRI and CT scans. The need for imaging has increased over the past decade. As our population ages and increases, we need more MRIs and CTs.

Our MRTs are dealing with an impossible amount of work. I recently met with a couple of MRTs. I was disappointed, but not surprised, that they too are dealing with burnout and a lack of respect from those in power. This was an issue long before COVID.

Did you know a number of MRTs that I’ve spoken to have actually been “put off on burnout” by their doctors? This government has created a medically-diagnosable crisis on the backs of our healthcare workers. Just like we’re seeing in other areas of health, these incredibly important employees are being overworked and disrespected.

It’s time to value our healthcare workers

This must stop. This is hurting healthcare workers. This is hurting Islanders. We must begin to value our healthcare workers instead of just treating them as cogs in a wheel. They deserve fair wages, a work-life balance, vacation time, and to be consulted. Islanders deserve to receive medical treatment in an appropriate time frame.

We must begin to value our healthcare workers instead of just treating them as cogs in a wheel.

I am calling on government to immediately increase the number of MRTs to better reflect our growing population. This is one step towards valuing our frontline.

Secondly, I call on government to reach out to all frontline experts. Too often this government releases shiny documents, “reviews”, and “plans” without even bothering to ask the frontline experts for their input. This is not only disrespectful but also it’s just a bad idea. Our frontline workers have the answers to our healthcare crisis! They know what’s wrong and they have some great ideas on how to help fix it. It’s time for government to start listening and start acting.