A Lockeport woman who was left waiting in limbo for a diagnostic mammogram is speaking about the state of the provincial health-care system.
With a family history of breast cancer, Holly Chedd wasted no time in contacting a health-care provider after finding lumps in both breasts earlier this fall. It took her three weeks to see a nurse practitioner for a referral to Yarmouth. Her initial appointment was on Dec. 7. That appointment was postponed to early February after a radiologist left.
“In life sometimes, you have to take a back seat, but not in this case,” said Chedd, who went to Queens-Shelburne MLA Kim Masland for help.
“This is just another example of complete mismanagement from the health authority and this Liberal government,” said Masland, who raised the issue in the House of Assembly on Oct. 18. “It is beyond unfair to leave these women waiting for this critical procedure. Something must be done to ensure that the women of southwest Nova Scotia receive the care they deserve.”
Since Chedd has gone public with the issue, she has been able to secure an appointment in Kentville for Nov. 8.
“I will definitely take it for sure. Here’s hoping nobody cancels on me,” she said in an interview. “I even had two people offer to give me their appointments. I can’t tell you how beautiful that is.”
Chedd decided to speak out to encourage others to also speak up, and to give a voice to others who may be too timid.
“We’ve had six nurse practitioners in five years,” said Chedd, noting there have been issues with files getting lost in transition and files leaked. A nurse practitioner used to travel to Lockeport every Wednesday to see patients. Now they don’t.
“We can make the 25-minute drive to Shelburne hospital but there’s no guarantee it will be open. It’s baffling to me.”
The average wait time for diagnostic breast screening in Nova Scotia is 33 days. The NSHA website says the wait in Yarmouth is 70 days, the longest in the province. The shortest time is in New Glasgow at 11 days. According to the website mammography screening sees a wait time in Yarmouth of 114 days. In Bridgewater the wait is 22 days.
While the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) cannot comment specifically on any case for reasons of privacy and confidentiality, “We certainly acknowledge wait times for diagnostic imaging are long at some of our sites,” said Kristen Lipscombe, senior advisor of media relations. “We are looking at how we can improve our booking processes to make sure patients understand they are able to receive services at other hospitals when appropriate.
“In regards to diagnostic imaging in Yarmouth, there are six radiologists that provide services in the South West area of the province. One of these radiologists is currently off on leave. They are based at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital, but they also handle cases from the Shelburne and Digby hospitals,” said Lipscombe.
“Two of these radiologists, who work part-time, perform breast biopsies and other specialized procedures. This is a reduction in radiologists who perform breast biopsies, since one radiologist retired late last year,” she added.
Lipscombe said since this retirement, the remaining radiologists and the diagnostic imaging team at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital have been working hard to reduce the impact on patients and wait times, but there are still challenges.
“We recognize we need to continue to work to reduce wait times for breast imaging services available at Yarmouth Regional Hospital,” she said.
Lipscombe said the health authority is currently recruiting for a radiologist that provides breast imaging, but given the staff shortage “there will be some delays in providing breast biopsy services” at Yarmouth Regional as they continue to recruit.
“Our recruiter for this part of Nova Scotia is also working to recruit for radiologists in this area. We are following up on some interest that has been expressed in this position. Successful recruitment in this area will help reduce wait times,” she said. “Providing timely, safe and appropriate access to care, tests and services is a priority for Nova Scotia Health Authority.”