Sask. family says persistence is key while trying to access specialist care


While recent statistics suggest that Saskatchewan is making progress on shortening waitlists for surgeries and diagnostic scans – some residents are still facing serious delays in accessing certain types of specialists.


After undergoing surgery on his thyroid, Darren Schachtel has faced roadblock after roadblock in his attempts to follow up with an endocrinologist – with the waitlists in Regina measured not in months, but in years.


“You’re kind of left just hanging. You really don’t know. They can’t really tell you. You haven’t got any timeline or anything,” he told CTV News while describing his experience.


According to a recent report from Secondstreet.org – a think tank that tracks health care delivery across Canada – Saskatchewan is making progress on some fronts.


“We’ve actually seen a positive story in Saskatchewan,” Secondstreet.org President Colin Craig explained.


As of Dec. 14, 28,361 people are waiting for surgeries in Saskatchewan, while 19,637 residents are in queue to receive diagnostic scans.


The totals mark a -21.2 per cent and a -4.8 per cent decrease since June of 2022.


Part of the improvements, Craig noted, is Saskatchewan’s willingness to adapt in the name of efficiency.


“They’re not afraid of trying different things,” he said. “They’ve decided to send some patients out of province if those patients want to go and get care faster. So that’s a positive thing because for a lot of patients, they just want to put an end to their chronic pain.”


While its good news for those who need surgeries or diagnostic scans – the picture seems to be less bright for those looking to access specialists.


The question of how many people are seeking care from specialists remains a mystery – as Secondstreet’s data contains holes – with specialist waitlists absent for most provinces.


“When it comes to Saskatchewan, we get two out of three. So that’s positive – but it would help if we could get the number of patients waiting to see specialists,” Craig added.


“Because that’s an important point when it comes to that health care process and patients getting the care that they need.”


An important point that Schachel is painfully aware of. He says the issues of accessing an endocrinologist were put on full display in his attempts to get help in Regina.


“There’s a three year waiting list and even then they’re not sure,” he explained. “They’re so far behind in Regina and then the girl told me that there’s only one doctor in Regina that does this stuff.”


“To me it’s still a lack of care. Just the fact alone that he’s on this waiting list for that long and not hearing nothing,” Schachtel’s wife, Deborah, explained. “Like at least, you should have gotten a call or a letter or something notifying you that there’s this backlog.”


Through sheer persistence – Schachtel has managed to get an appointment in Saskatoon.


He and his wife Deborah now worry for their son – who will have to face the same ordeal soon enough.


“In our situation you add that to a son who’s dealing with the same thing and it’s like – is he going to face the same issues?” she added.


In a statement to CTV News, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health highlighted its surgical and diagnostic feats – nearly 48,000 surgical procedures conducted between April and September, a mobile MRI unit in Regina set to be online in 2024 and urgent waitlist patients being able to access mammograms in Alberta.


The government’s response ended with it defending the lack of specialist data.


“As is the case in many jurisdictions across Canada, waitlists to see specialists cannot be tracked reliably enough in Saskatchewan to allow for public reporting,” the statement read.


Craig echoed the government’s reasoning – pointing out that it’s a response his organization hears most often in its own inquiries.


“When you look across the country, you get different responses. Quite often, it seems like there is a lack of data when it comes to the number of patients waiting to see specialists right across the country,” he said.


“It seems like that particular information is held more localized and it’s not collected centrally as it is for the number of patients waiting for surgery or diagnostic scans.”


Craig added that in the past 30 years, healthcare funding has skyrocketed well above the rate of inflation.


He says the funds are there – it’s really about how they’re utilized.


“There’s a lot of money in the system. We know there’s a lot of good people in the system too. The problem is the structure of the system itself. It’s not set up properly, and if we would change things a bit, we could get faster care to patients quality care and that could ease a lot of patients suffering in this country,” he said.


“So we certainly think there should be more in the way of health reform but we’re seeing some positive signs in Canada and including in Saskatchewan.”


As for what’s Schachtel’s learned in his experience, it’s simple. Advocate for yourself until you get the help you need.


“It basically boils down to you just got to keep phoning them and keep nagging and nagging at them to get something going it seems,” he said.


“Otherwise you just get forgotten. Pushed aside.”

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