Minister says province will focus on urgent colonoscopies
Health Sciences Centre
Liberal health critic Andrew Parsons is questioning why the government had to be pressed to address urgent colonoscopy wait times.
And NDP health critic Gerry Rogers said for people on the urgent list, waiting is excruciating, physicians offering the service are likely frustrated and more must be done to improve access.
Rogers and Parsons were reacting to The Telegram’s story Wednesday that revealed only about a quarter of Health Sciences Centre patients requiring urgent colonoscopies receive them within the recommended time frame. Colonoscopies are a diagnostic tool in detecting colorectal cancer.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Susan Sullivan said Wednesday the province is shifting attention to colonoscopy wait times and improving those waits across the province.
Eastern Health confirmed to The Telegram that at the province’s largest and best-equipped hospital, 25.9 per cent of urgent — also known as Priority 1 — patients received a colonoscopy within the benchmark of 14 days. The percentages are based on the period from April to June.
Benchmarks are the lengths of time according to a standard of care that a patient should wait for a procedure.
The median wait time — the point at which five out of 10 patients have had their procedure completed — at the Health Sciences Centre was 45 days for that same time period — 31 days past the benchmark.
Eastern Health said 90 per cent had wait times during that period of 122 days or less. Others waited longer, but the authority said in some cases, there were delays related to paperwork snafus or the patients not being ready or available.
According to Eastern Health, it has enough scopes to do the work and enough staff in the endoscopy program, and when questioned why it wasn’t clearing the backlog, the health authority said it’s increasing endoscopy clinic hours in the fall to try to shorten the wait times. The Health Sciences Centre and the other St. John’s adult acute care hospital, St. Clare’s, will add two days of clinic time per week, operating 10 hours per day, for 13 weeks.
“Why (is the government) waiting to be prodded to make these decisions? It shouldn’t be reactionary,” Parsons said Wednesday.
He said Health Minister Susan Sullivan touts good news about positive wait time results and funding announcements, but glosses over shortcomings.
“The same day she’s out talking about our success in certain areas, it’s obvious we have got signficant deficiencies in other areas. I wonder if it’s a case of are we constantly concentrating on certain areas and leaving other ones exposed?” Parsons said.
In 2012, the Department of Health announced a colorectal screening program to promote early detection, noting in a news release that colon cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women and the second leading cause of cancer death in Newfoundland and Labrador, next to lung cancer.
Rogers is wondering if screening strategies were planned enough in advance and if enough resources are in the system to deal with demand.
“We know with early detection, there is more possibility of cure, of management, and in the far run it saves us money. You can’t help but wonder because of the implementation of new strategies, was there enough capacity built in to fulfil
the goals and objectives?” Rogers said.
She said aside for any screening measures, many urgent colonoscopies are not being done within the benchmarks at Health Sciences.
“Is the rate of colorectal cancer so high in Newfoundland and Labrador and the high mortality rate because the system hasn’t responded to the early detection? Is that one of the reasons why it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the province?”
When asked if it’s alarming the Health Sciences Centre has a low rate of meeting the benchmark for urgent colonoscopies, Sullivan said that’s why the government is tackling the wait times there and elsewhere in the province.
“It is certainly a high priority for us, for the (regional health authorities) and for us over here at the Department of Health and Community Services. That’s why we are giving it so much attention,” she said.
Sullivan said the department will monitor the outcome of the increased clinic hours at the two St. John’s hospitals in the fall.
In Grand Falls-Windsor, physicians have doubled their end-oscopy services each month, Sullivan said.
She said the department’s clinical efficiency division, after achieving top grades in the country for radiation, bypass surgery, hip and knee replacement and cataract surgery wait times, has turned its attention to colon cancer.
“Our goal is always the shortest wait time possible,” Sullivan said.
The screening program was launched on the west coast and has moved to central Newfoundland. It distributes kits containing fecal immunochemical tests to people between 50 and 74 years old. The test is a screening tool for people at average risk of colon cancer.
Participants with abnormal results are contacted by the screening program for followup, which may include a colonoscopy.
The program is eventually to go provincewide.