A Kingston doctor is sounding the alarm about medical wait times in Ontario after one of her patients was told she’d wait 4.5 years before seeing a specialist.
Dr. Joy Hataley, a family practice anesthetist, told CTVNews.ca she was “shocked” after she tried to refer one of her patients to a neurologist at Kingston General Hospital and was told in a letter that it would take years before her patient could get an appointment.
The letter says that if Hataley deems the time frame “unacceptable,” she could opt to refer her patient to specialists in other cities.
While she said she’s acclimatized to long wait times over the years – especially from specialists – Hataley called the 4.5-year delay “insane.”
“Initially I was just a bit stunned. I actually thought I misread it,” she told CTV News Toronto on Friday.
“I put my reading glasses on – because I am that age – to check if it was a 1.5. I couldn’t fathom it was a 7.5. I walked to a physician’s room nearby me just to verify that I was actually reading 4.5.”
Hataley said she and the patient found it “irrelevant” to wait 4.5 years.
“Who knows what happens in 4.5 years. Will we even remember that we had a consult? Will we still be on the list? What was actually going to happen in 4.5 years?” she questioned.
Dumfounded by the estimate, Hataley took to Twitter looking for an explanation.
She directed her tweet at Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins and Kingston MPP Sophie Kiwala, simply asking: “Please explain.”
Hataley said she’s spent more than 20 years of her profession trying to navigate around increasing wait times in all areas of health care while advocating for improvements to patient-related issues.
“I sense that this is not a problem, I perceive, to be in isolation. This issue is an issue for people across the country,” Hataley said.
“I don’t think this is the norm by any stretch of the imagination, but (the fact that) it even occurs at all is shocking.”
Despite meetings with government officials and health care providers, Hataley said she believes the system has “hit a wall.”
“My main message is: We need timely, consistent and reliable health care in our province and we do not have it,” she told CTVNews.ca via phone earlier this week.
The President of the Ontario Medical Association, Dr. Shawn Whatley, calls the wait times “atrocious.” He added that wealthier patients at least have the option to travel in order to receive care faster. And ultimately, he said, it creates “a massive two-tiered system.”
“We’ve known about it for 15 years where people with means can get procedures and test more quickly,”
Kingston Health Sciences Centre said delays are “a challenge” across all levels of health care but that this particular neurologist is in high demand because they “receive referrals from a very large catchment area.”
Hataley acknowledged that in this particular case, her patient will likely choose to travel to Ottawa or Toronto to see a different specialist, but that too will come at a cost.
“This is an alarm bell,” she said. “What it is, to me, is a red flag to the system.”
According to a 2016 Commonwealth Fund survey, which focused on 11 developed countries, found that 56 per cent of Canadians polled waited more than four weeks to see a medical specialist, compared to the international average of about 36 per cent.
Hataley went on to tell CTV News Toronto that she believes wait times are compounded by the fact that many people seeking care don’t necessarily need to visit hospitals for treatment. Often times, walk-in clinics, pharmacists and family doctors are the better choice.
Now, she’s calling on Queen’s Park to introduce health care courses in school to educate people at a young age about how to best navigate our health care system to help maximize what the patient receives while simultaneously relieving pressure on other overwhelmed areas.
With files from CTVNews.ca's Sonja Puzic and CTV News Toronto's Paul Bliss.