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Trickle down health care

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 19/05) - Wait times in Nunavut hospitals aren't as long as in southern hospitals, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement, said the health minister.

Nunavut wait times:

  • Radiation therapy: Five to seven weeks after diagnosis
  • Hip fracture fixation: high risk cases immediately medevaced
  • Non-emergency hip replacement: 12 to 18 months
  • Non-emergency knee replacement: 12 to 18 months
  • High-risk cataract surgery: high-risk cases immediately medevaced. Elective cases can take 12 to 13 months.
  • Breast cancer screening: no mammogram machine in Nunavut, until March 2007, only suspected cancer cases medevaced
  • Level one cardiac: Immediate medevac. Nunavut does not track cardiac cases by the three levels. Wait time for non-emergency cases is one year

    Premiers' goals for health care wait times:

  • Radiation therapy to treat cancer within four weeks of patients being ready to treat
  • Hip fracture fixation within 48 hours
  • Hip replacements within 26 weeks
  • Knee replacements within 26 weeks
  • Surgery to remove cataracts within 16 weeks for patients who are at high risk
  • Breast cancer screening for women aged 50 to 69 every two years
  • Cervical cancer screening for women aged 18 to 69 every three years after two normal tests
  • Cardiac bypass surgery for level one patients within two weeks, level two patients within six weeks and level three patients within 26 weeks

    -Source: Department of health and social services

  • The premiers released their goals to reduce health care wait times earlier this month during a premiers conference.

    In Nunavut's case, wait times fall in the middle of the pack. And the main reason is because Nunavut doesn't have all the equipment in place, so patients are flown south.

    More than $15 million was spent flying people to southern health care facilities in 2004-05, at an average cost of $10,820 a flight.

    "The provincial wait times are our wait times. Most of those (items on the premiers' list) are procedures Nunavummiut receive in other jurisdictions," said health and social services minister Leona Aglukkaq.

    Where the territory is falling behind is non-emergency care. Hip and knee replacements can take 12 to 18 months and non-emergency cardiac care can take up to a year.

    Breast cancer screening is recommended for women between 50 and 65 every two years. In Nunavut, there is no mammography machine.

    "If a woman finds a lump in her breast, that patient is referred and flown down south within one week in most cases. We can not have the equipment in all 26 communities," said Aglukkaq.

    The machines were not included in the new Kitikmeot and Kivalliq health centres, but one is planned for the new Baffin regional hospital for March 2007.

    "We are working on that. We also don't have chemotherapy in Nunavut, and we are working at that. We also don't deliver many babies in Nunavut. We are trying to bring those types of services to Nunavut," said Aglukkaq.

    "I can only guess at the time line (for new services), but there are efforts. We are working on those areas in Nunavut. We have to build our capacity, it's not going to happen overnight."

    Nunavut stands to benefit from the goals set by the premiers, said outgoing deputy minister of health and social services Bernie Blais, who is leaving the government of Nunavut on Jan. 27 for a position in Fort McMurray, Alta.

    "Not too far into the future, we hope to have some of those (procedures that require a trip south) done here," he said.

    Breast and cervical cancer statistics for Nunavut aren't being tracked well, Blais said, but noted that new electronic tracking systems in regional health centres will help provide accurate statistics.