The Miramichi Regional Hospital is coming under fire from an expert who has studied wait list problems across Canada for its decision to drop 500 patients from the physiotherapy wait list.
The hospital sent a letter to the patients in December, urging them to seek private care because the waiting list was so long, they would never get served.
"Part of me sort of laughed and part of me was kind of shocked," said Tom McIntosh, director of the Saskatchewan population health and evaluation research unit, based at the University of Regina.
"This is the first time, that I know of, of a health facility dealing with a wait list, by simply eliminating the wait list, and sending people home," said McIntosh, who has worked as a government consultant on medicare, was research co-ordinator for the Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada and has spent countless hours looking at ways of reducing wait lists.
"In Calgary, what was called the Hip & Knee Initiative, managed to take the wait for knee replacements from 60 weeks to 16 weeks over a relatively short time, simply by re-organizing the way people were admitted in, and flowed through the various stages you go through in getting a knee replacement," he said.
"In Saskatchewan, we have enlisted a private surgical facility to help with some orthopedic and other surgeries where there have been back logs."
'If I were the minister of health, my first instinct would be retract the eviction letters, for want of a better term, and make it clear that you are going to try and find them timely service as soon as possible.' —Tom McIntosh, Saskatchewan population health and evaluation research unit
Health Minister Ted Flemming says the necessary funding is in place and that it's a human resources and recruitment issue that is causing the problems in Miramichi.
"I mean, I don't want to sound like I'm passing the buck, but that is a decision by the Horizon Health Network and the hospital," he said.
"Unfortunately, we have, the budget covers it, the positions are there, the money is there, but we've got stuck with back to back double pregnancy leaves, and the problem is producing a person."
Liberal MLA Bill Fraser, who represents Miramichi-Bay du Vin, has suggested money for the vacant position be used to send the patients to private physiotherapists.
McIntosh says that wouldn't be unprecedented.
"If I were the minister of health, my first instinct would be retract the eviction letters, for want of a better term, and make it clear that you are going to try and find them timely service as soon as possible," he said.
"This is not how you deal with wait lists."
Earlier this week, the dean of law at the University of New Brunswick suggested the hospital could be on shaky legal ground.
Ian Peach said physiotherapy falls under hospital services, according to the Canada Health Act. And by law, he said, those services must be universal and accessible.