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THE president of the Canadian Medical Association says there’s "no excuse" for the long waits experienced by Manitobans for a key test that detects and tracks heart disease.
Dr. Chris Simpson, who is also chief of cardiology at Queen’s University and medical director of the cardiac program at Kingston General Hospital, said the huge wait list for non-urgent echocardiograms in Winnipeg is unusual for Canada.
"I think the echocardiogram wait time is the worst problem," Simpson said Tuesday in reaction to a new report on the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Cardiac Sciences Program (CSP).
"The (wait) times are a problem in Manitoba. It is unique in Canada. The waits for echos are not as bad in the rest of Canada," he said.
The WRHA commissioned the University of Ottawa Heart Institute to examine its $100-million cardiac program, centred at St. Boniface Hospital. The institute found there are several things the CSP does well, including its "excellent" response to heart failure. But it also pointed out several areas of concern, including a lack of focused research, management issues, excessive numbers of non-urgent cardiac-surgery cancellations and a 4,000-person wait list for echocardiograms, which diagnose and monitor heart disease.
Simpson said the echocardiogram issue in Manitoba is easy to address because the technology is not as expensive as with other medical tests.
"Ultrasound machines are cheap — there really is no excuse for your long waiting for echos," he said.
As well, he said, an echo technologist can be trained to operate the machine either in a community college or at a hospital.
Simpson said getting timely echocardiograms is essential for people who have cardiac issues.
"The reason it is so important is it is a preliminary test to everything else. You can’t have your angiogram or bypass until you get the echo.
"If they want to start somewhere, this is where they should start."
Progressive Conservative health critic Myrna Driedger said there were several troubling issues raised by the report, many of which have been brought to her attention by doctors and nurses in the past.
She said she’s heard morale within the Cardiac Sciences Program is low and there has been a significant staff turnover in some areas.
Driedger is particularly concerned about the number of cardiac-surgery cancellations and the long waits for echocardiograms.
Information obtained by the Tories through freedom of information legislation showed there were 303 cardiac surgeries rescheduled in Winnipeg in the first 10 months of last year.
"Some of them get as far as the preop area, and they’re cancelled. That is not acceptable. That’s not good health care," Driedger said.
She said long waits for an echocardiogram have been a concern for years.
"You’re not even going to get on a surgery (wait) list unless you find out if you have a problem, and if you can’t get your echo, you’ve still got a long way to go (before treatment)," the PC critic said.
The WRHA said it performs 19,000 to 20,000 echocardiograms each year and has enlisted the support of the privately operated Maples Surgical Centre to ease the load on city hospitals.
The University of Ottawa report called the 4,000-patient wait list for echos "unacceptable."
Dr. Brock Wright, the WRHA’s senior vice-president and chief medical officer, said the region is short of trained technologists. It is asking existing staff at Health Sciences Centre and St. Boniface Hospital whether they are willing to work additional hours to reduce the backlog. It is also seeing if more tests can be done on weekends.
"We agree that the wait time is too long, and we agree that we need more capacity," Wright said this week.
There is no training done in Manitoba for performing echocardiograms. The WRHA is trying to develop a partnership with an out-of-province college to train more technologists, Wright said.
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