Acting Health Minister Theresa Oswald is evidently proud of her government's attempt to improve access to health care. But it is speculation to draw a connection between the opening of quick-care clinics and the mental health crisis centre and a drop in the rate of ER visitors leaving the hospital without being seen. The impact of the health centres will be shown over time, not in a few months.
Historical patterns of ER walkaways -- measured among people who are triaged and registered and awaiting care -- show the numbers rise and fall each month. Ms. Oswald circulated the numbers for May to October, which saw the fluctuating rate go from 9.9 per cent to 7.8 per cent.
To buttress her case, Ms. Oswald pointed to the opening of two community quick-care centres and the new mental health crisis intervention centre, near the Health Sciences Centre.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority says some people showing up at the new health centres say they chose the quick-care clinics over going to the ER, but anecdotes make for sketchy evidence. Patients with mental health issues can contribute to backlogs, as their needs are more complex and they can remain for extended periods in care. The crisis intervention centre is good medicine, a more humane way to help people. The quick-care clinics can alleviate a little pressure from the ER waiting rooms, which are frequently crowded with the sick and injured, non-urgent cases that wait for hours.
But non-urgent cases -- the cuts, broken bones and infections common in ERs -- are not the root cause of lengthy waits. The Progressive Conservatives on Wednesday released statistics that show the rate of people who have left the ER without being seen has risen over the last decade.
Studies show a backlogged ER is a symptom of a lack of acute-care beds on the wards. When there is a bed shortage, sometimes the result of inefficiency that keeps patients in hospital too long, ER patients requiring admission are held on gurneys until they can be moved.
An inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair, who died at the HSC ER without seeing a doctor in 2008, and into the death of Heather Brenan, who collapsed last year on her doorstep after being sent home from the Seven Oaks Hospital ER, will look into the systemic problems, including the availability of beds. Appropriate supply and use of resources will take the co-operation of various hospital programs. That is where the hard work for the WRHA lies.