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LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Let the truth be known

Hospital wait times for elective surgeries have spiralled. Everyone knew things were behind, but now it appears to be seemingly out of control. Then again, no one truly knows the numbers of how many are waiting except a person at the end of a telephone line. Yet provincial health authorities freely admit that there are at least 6,000 in St. John’s alone.

Needing health care at this time in a continually stressed situation does not bode well. In a climate of continued anxiety where our health outcomes in many areas are not good, such news of long waits is truly heartbreaking.

In the same provincially released news story hosted by the association representing doctors within the province, a cancer surgeon, appearing to be on the fine edge of an emotional breakdown, admitted that lives have been possibly put in jeopardy as a result of delayed cancer surgeries.

Devastating does not do justice to describe the agony of a cancer diagnosis. The chilling message are words no one wishes to hear.

A cancer surgeon wearing their heart on a sleeve marks further evidence of a broken healthcare system. Newfoundland’s pandemic strategy lockdown, isolation and cancellation within hospitals may have worked in saving vital capacity space and lives, but now news of a wait list of thousands looking for care is tragic evidence of possible errors in judgment relating to capacity and additional unrecoverable hurt.

One can also speculate that added to this total of wait times for elective surgery are levels of anxiety of thousands of residents queueing for a doctor, while delays in blood work or other diagnostic services during the pandemic add to the uncertainty. The cost in lost time and treatment within the system has resulted in increased suffering and lives lost over the two year pandemic period. This tragic total may never be known.

What one does know is that people are still waiting and stories of the disconnect within the system still exist. I recently accompanied a fellow senior to a specialist appointment where the opening line was, “I guess you are wondering why you are here today.”

It was a pre-pandemic appointment scheduled over two years ago that finally caught up to the calendar. It was two years of waiting to learn that the original healthcare need for the referral was no longer a concern. It had corrected itself through medication from the family doctor.

Why the appointment? Why the three hour drive? Why the risk to life and limb on a wintry day? Why the expense? Why the disconnect between family physician and specialist?

It’s not easy to answer but it’s definitely a disconnect that is evidence of a need to be addressed.

Another case in point was an appointment where it was also required to travel the winter roads for a healthcare service not available at the local hospital, but a service not beyond the realm of training for the many exemplary specialists in healthcare that exist at the local clinic. To travel may be all good for planning, maybe in July. But on the southwest corner on a wintry March day was risky business at best, as this person navigated through the serious and all-too-frequent white out conditions.

Sadly ironic was that following the routine registration, and tracing the multicoloured hallway dots to the appointment location, the healthcare provider was not there. It was a virtual. Unbelievable!

This appointment could have certainly been done locally or approached differently with no travel involved. This fact is not new. It was recognized in the 1990s with the innovation of Telemedicine. Increased virtual visits using the advances in technology does have a place. However, no virtual will ever replace sitting with a health care provider to assess health care needs.

Let the truth be known.

There are a lot of good things going on in healthcare being undertaken by a lot of specialized, truly dedicated, caring individuals. There are still so many positive outcomes. The pandemic has taught everyone some very valuable lessons.

But we must never fall in the trap of saying that while we know things are bad here in the province things are worse elsewhere. Our here and now is healthcare in the moment, meeting individual needs. Now that the pressures created by the pandemic have appeared to have levelled for the moment at least, the provincial government and the many professional associations found in the healthcare system, appear to be moving in the right direction in rebalancing the system to ensure patient needs are met.

However, it has to also start with us as individuals doing our utmost to stay healthy, for as they say, the last place you want to be these days is in a hospital, or on a wait list numbering in the thousands.

John Spencer

Channel-Port aux Basques, NL

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