Montreal·YOUR VIEW

Montrealers speak out about long waits to see medical specialists

The Federation of Medical Specialists in Quebec says new procedures are coming into effect at the end of October with the goal of reducing long wait times.

Patients turning to private or out-of-province care rather than wait for treatment

Montrealer Renzo Riga was diagnosed with gastric lymphoma in March 2016. (Submitted by Renzo Riga)

Montrealer Renzo Riga says he would still be waiting for answers today if he hadn't gone to see a private medical specialist in March 2016. 

Instead, he found out today that his gastric lymphoma is in total remission.

Riga was one of dozens of people who reached out to CBC this week after a story made headlines about a Saint-Eustache, Que., woman who got a call back from a specialist nine years after requesting an appointment.

Riga first went to the emergency room at Cité de la Santé Hospital last January complaining of severe abdominal pains.

After numerous tests and scans, the hospital gave him the all clear but agreed to make a gastroscopy appointment "as a precaution."

Following months of no communication despite multiple attempts to follow-up, Riga turned to the private system.

I was desperate and in severe pain.-  Renzo Riga, patient

"Finally, by March I was desperate and in severe pain. I went to a private clinic to have my gastroscopy done,"

He was diagnosed with gastric lymphoma and had to undergo chemotherapy at the Jewish General Hospital.

Riga says if he had waited for Cité de la Santé Hospital to call him back, as they did earlier this month, he could be terminal today.

"I feel betrayed. I feel let down by the system," he said. "I could have been diagnosed much earlier. If I was diagnosed in January, I would have saved three months of stress, anxiety."

This is not an uncommon narrative when it comes to specialist wait times in Quebec.

Waiting two years for an appointment

Almost three years ago, Sadia Haque went to the emergency room in Pointe Claire with stroke-like symptoms. 

She was 25 years old at the time and complained of feeling pins and needles and numbness throughout her body.

Sadia Haque says she went to an Ontario emergency room and got treated in no time. (Submitted by: Sadia Haque)

Haque waited 12 hours in emergency before losing her patience and going to see a doctor in Ontario the next day.

She says she was able to see a doctor within six hours.

Haque waited a year to see a neurologist in Quebec, and has been waiting to see a specialist for multiple sclerosis for two years.

"Two years is a long time to wonder what is going on with yourself," she said.

Numerous others left comments on CBC Montreal's Facebook page with their stories of wait times to see a specialist:

Changes on the way

On Thursday, the Federation of Medical Specialists in Quebec said new procedures are coming into effect at the end of October with the goal of reducing long wait times.

A centralized, standardized health services dispatch centre will start taking requests as of Oct. 31. 

The project will start with nine specialties:

  • Cardiology.
  • Gastroenterology.
  • Neurology.
  • Nephrology.
  • Pediatrics.
  • Ophthamology.
  • Orthopedics.
  • Urology.
  • Otorhinolaryngology (ORL).

These changes won't affect existing wait lists. People who have been waiting months or years for an appointment will receive priority.

A spokesperson for the federation was not available for an interview.

Health minister reacts

Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette reacted to the original story of the woman who was called back nine years later, calling it an exceptional situation.

"It's a glitch. It is not normal to see that. This is something peculiar," Barrette said.

With files from Sarah Towle