Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut January 12, 2018 - 9:30 am

Medical travel leaves some Nunavummiut hanging over the holidays

“This is an ongoing problem. And it’s costing a lot of money”

Residents of Coral Harbour say they're frustrated with glitches to their medical travel, including unscheduled appointments and unbooked flights. (FILE PHOTO)
Residents of Coral Harbour say they're frustrated with glitches to their medical travel, including unscheduled appointments and unbooked flights. (FILE PHOTO)

Some Nunavummiut say they spent part of the holiday season away from home waiting for medical appointments that never actually happened.

On Dec. 31, a Coral Harbour woman flew to Rankin Inlet and then on to Winnipeg in anticipation of a Jan. 2 ultrasound at a city hospital.

Maggie (who did not want to use her real name) told Nunatsiaq News she spent New Year’s Eve alone in her hotel room.

She said she arrived Jan. 2 at the hospital for her appointment only to be told three hours later that she was on “standby” and might not be seen that day.

The woman flew home the following day, without having had her ultrasound, and her local health centre has rescheduled the appointment for February.

“I’m going to make sure they have everything set up next time,” she said. “Or I’m just not going to go.”

Maggie believes the problem is miscommunication between the local health clinics who make the initial appointment and health care providers in Manitoba.

Medical travel glitches are nothing new in a territory that must send its residents south for specialized health care.

But newly elected Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser said he’s seeing an increase in the number of people in the region scheduled on trips where either the flight or appointment hasn’t been properly booked in advance.

And Netser plans to raise the issue at the next sitting of the legislative assembly in March.

“It seems to have become more and more of an issue,” said Netser, saying he frequently runs into constituents at the local airport returning from unsuccessful medical travel, or he reads their stories on social media.

Over the holidays, Netser said his brother attended a medical appointment in Winnipeg, but when he tried to check in to the flight home, his name wasn’t on the manifest.

“Having been a minister before, I believe there’s a disconnect between medical professionals and the staff setting up the appointments,” he said. “Someone’s not doing their job.”

It’s clearly an issue of miscommunication, but it comes at a steep price, Netser said, noting a one-way trip from Coral Harbour to Winnipeg can run over $2,000.

In 2016/17, the Government of Nunavut’s Health Department said the average cost of a medical travel airfare was $1,170 per round trip.

Over that same period, the department spent a total of $74 million on medical travel, which amounts to about $2,400 for every Nunavut resident during that year.

Netser said a newly elected government, along with a new health minister, Pat Angnakak, may help to tackle the issue.

“This is an ongoing problem,” he said. “And it’s costing a lot of money.”

For its part, the Department of Health told Nunatsiaq News that it is looking into the factors influencing the glitches some patients have reported.

The department launched a review of its medical travel policy and program last July, which has sought to consult Nunavummiut on their medical travel experiences.

The government hasn’t indicated when the review will wrap up, but it will issue a report with recommendations.

Nunavummiut who have questions or concerns about their scheduled medical travel can contact Nunavut’s office of patient relations by phone at 1-855-438-3003 or by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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