When the Montreal Children’s Hospital finally opens at the new superhospital this spring, the number of people passing through its doors to see allergists will be sharply reduced.
The Children’s has been told to cut 3,600 allergy visits per year, which equates to about 60 per cent of the department's overall patient visits, as part of a province-wide health care plan geared to direct patients to community clinics instead of hospitals.
The reduction in patient visits comes at a bad time, says Jennifer Roberge, whose six-year-old son Tristan suffers from severe allergies.
“Food allergies in children are definitely on the rise,” Roberge said.
“Children are having multiple allergies, not just one anymore or two. It’s a combination of dairy, wheat, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, just to name a few.”
Few spots available
Patients with severe allergies will be prioritized for treatment at the superhospital, said Bruce Mazer, the head of the pediatric allergy and immunology department at the Children's.
Others will be directed to outpatient and specialist clinics.
Pediatric allergist Dr. Marie-Noël Primeau said some doctors at the Children’s are now scrambling to find additional clinics where they can divide their time to continue following their patients.
But even months before the cuts at the Children's are implemented, many allergy clinics are already reporting long wait lists to see a specialist.
At the Tiny Tots Medical Centre in Côte Saint-Luc, 500 patients are currently on their six-month-long list.
“The public is angry and rightfully so,” said Dr. Benjamin Burko, a pediatrician and director of the centre.
“The health care system is paid for by hardworking people with their tax dollars and to think that the thing you just paid a lot of money for is not available to you for another six months, it’s annoying to say the least.”
Burko says his isn’t the only clinic overrun with patients waiting to see an allergist.
“Nobody has huge openings every week to see patients. Everybody has waiting lists,” he said.
New pediatric outpatient clinic on the way
Negotiations for a new pediatric outpatient clinic are in the process of being finalized says Mazer.
He says the clinic is set to be open sometime this summer and should reduce some of the wait-list strain. It will be in “reasonable proximity to the hospital,” said Mazer.
Jennifer Roberge, whose experience with her son’s allergies prompted her to start the blog It's an Itchy Little World, said many parents had no idea such big changes were in the works for pediatric allergy visits.
“Some people weren’t really sure what was going on because they weren’t able to get appointments and they were being pushed back and rescheduled or told to call back at a later date,” she said.
"Allergies are growing so instead of decreasing, we need more allergists and more appointments. I think it'll be hard for a lot of people."