The number of people leaving Winnipeg emergency rooms without seeing a doctor is on the rise, according to health authority figures obtained by Manitoba's Tories.

The Progressive Conservatives say one in 10 people give up on waiting in the emergency room to see a doctor, citing numbers the party obtained from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority through freedom of information requests:

Patients leaving the ER before being seen
Time frame Total patient visits Percentage of patients not seen by a doctor Number of patients not seen by a doctor
April 1, 2009 - March 31, 2010 285,125 8% 22,327
April 1, 2010 - March 31, 2011 285,092 7.3% 20,916
April 1, 2011 - March 31, 2012 287,063 8.1% 23,243
April 1, 2012 - March 31, 2013 285,045 9.9% 28,333

(Source: Winnipeg Regional Health Authority information requested by Manitoba Progressive Conservative Caucus through Freedom of Information requests)

"It's up 7,000 from just two years ago," PC health critic Cameron Friesen told reporters on Tuesday.

"I know the [health] minister will try to put a brave face on today, but clearly the numbers are going in the wrong direction." 

Patient's husband frustrated

Rob Sabo says he knows how frustrating it can be to wait in the ER.

Three weeks ago, Sabo took his wife, who recently had gastric bypass surgery, to the Victoria Hospital's emergency room after she felt nauseous and in pain.

The couple left the ER after waiting for three hours because she had to lie down, said Sabo, who added that he has lost faith in the health-care system.

"A while back, they said they eliminated hallway medicine," he said.

"I question when they eliminated hallway medicine, did they just take away the beds and let people sit in the ER waiting room?"

Number trending down, says NDP

However, the NDP government argues that between May and October of this year, the number of patients leaving the ER without being seen has more or less been declining, citing these numbers:

  • May: 9.9 per cent.
  • June: 9.2 per cent.
  • July: 7.7 per cent.
  • August: 8 per cent.
  • September: 8.4 per cent.
  • October: 7.8 per cent.

The province attributed the decline to new medical initiatives, including the opening of the Medical Health Crisis Response Centre and a number of QuickCare clinics earlier this year.

"We do take the numbers seriously, but also want to add that we do have other interventions in place now that didn't exist ever before," acting health minister Theresa Oswald told reporters.

The province added that patients who leave the ER without being seen are contacted by a HealthLinks nurse to see if they still need medical attention.

The WRHA says it does not have the capacity to track patients' reasons for leaving the emergency room, but it has an idea why.

"We don't have the capacity to collect the actual reasons and the data, but we know from speaking with the people who make those calls that frequently people have already accessed another type of health service," said Lori Lamont, the WRHA's vice-president and chief nursing officer.

But the fact that patients' reasons for leaving the ER aren't being tracked leads some, like Sabo, to wonder what's the point of tracking patient numbers in the first place.

"Who's taking care of our health-care system?" he said.