Nova Scotia

Amherst man's cancer surgery cancelled after ambulance no-show

Wayne Duffy was supposed to have cancer surgery in Moncton, N.B., but an ambulance didn't arrive in time to get him to the hospital from Nova Scotia.

EHS says system continues to struggle with offload wait times

N.S. man's cancer surgery cancelled after ambulance no-show

2 years ago
Duration 4:13
An Amherst, N.S., woman is speaking out after her husband's cancer surgery was cancelled because an ambulance did not show up.

An Amherst, N.S., woman is speaking out after her husband's cancer surgery was cancelled because the ambulance that was supposed to transfer him to the procedure did not show up.

"This is not acceptable," Sharon Duffy said in a telephone interview from the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre on Tuesday.

"What if you have a heart attack and you call an ambulance and an ambulance doesn't come?"

Duffy's 68-year-old husband, Wayne, was admitted to hospital 47 days ago with congestive heart failure. He's been there ever since, including 27 days in the ICU. He's suffered a mild stroke since being in hospital and a CT scan revealed a tumour on his bladder.

A consult was arranged last month in Moncton, N.B., with a surgeon who said the surgery should happen as soon as possible. The procedure was scheduled for Oct. 19.

Ambulance repeatedly delayed

An Emergency Health Services (EHS) ambulance was booked to transfer Wayne from Cumberland Regional at 9:30 a.m., but when that time came, Sharon Duffy said they were informed it would be an hour late. Meanwhile, medical staff in Moncton said they needed the patient no later than 12 p.m.

"We expected the ambulance by 11, and they called at 11:30 and said they would be another two hours," said Sharon.

"So Moncton cancelled the surgery and at that point told us they couldn't reschedule it because of COVID."

Although having the surgery in Halifax is an option, Duffy said she's worried getting the proper referral for her husband and having a consultation before a date can even be set for the procedure would mean unnecessary delays.

An added complication is that her husband is on continuous bladder irrigation, meaning it's not as simple as getting into a car and driving to another hospital.

Offload wait times an ongoing problem

Jeff Fraser, director of provincial operations for EHS, said a preliminary assessment of ambulance availability for Oct. 19 shows a large number of ambulances were tied up at emergency departments waiting to turn over patients.

"And we're not talking minutes here, we're counting these things in hours," he said. "Our capacity was used up very, very quickly and I would say — just a preliminary look — that was one of the major contributing factors that occurred to make us cancel that transfer that day."

Ambulance availability and staffing levels have been an ongoing issue in Nova Scotia. (Robert Short/CBC)

Fraser said when something like what happened with the Duffys takes place, it weighs heavily on people who work in the system. Offload wait times has been an ongoing problem in the health-care system, and although there has been some progress Fraser said the pressures continue to be felt.

"I certainly apologize to the Duffy family, but this is truly an issue around resources and capacity and, on any given day, there is a significant amount of our deployed unit hours tied up at hospitals looking after patients."

'This is a huge issue'

Like many people do in situations like these, Duffy has had to advocate for her husband's care. She contacted her MLA, who's a nurse by training, as well as the mayor of Amherst — a doctor who worked in Moncton for years — in hopes of finding a solution.

The Duffys have been told the surgeon in Moncton can still do Wayne's operation, although nothing has been scheduled yet. While she has lots of praise for the staff at Cumberland Regional and the care her husband has received, Duffy is frustrated with EHS.

"We shouldn't have to go public, but I'm willing to go public because this is a huge issue and it should never have happened," she said.

"I don't want anybody to ever have to go through this again and I want to know that if my husband gets his surgery rescheduled, that the ambulance will be there to transport him to his surgery, which we were told would be done."

Contract talks continue with service provider

Duffy's MLA, Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin, said this isn't the first time a constituent has had trouble getting an ambulance when they needed one and she's angry that it's happened again. She said she previously raised the issue with Randy Delorey when he was health minister and plans to do so again with Leo Glavine, who took over the file last week.

Staffing levels for ambulances and ambulance availability have been ongoing issues that the union representing paramedics has highlighted. Smith-McCrossin said she's worried the Health Department hasn't been holding Emergency Medical Care Inc., the privately owned service provider, accountable.

The department commissioned a review of the ambulance service in October 2018 and finally received it a year later, but has not made the results public. Delorey said the report would only become public after contract talks between the government and Emergency Medical Care are complete. The last contract expired at the end of March.

Smith-McCrossin said situations such as the one the Duffys are dealing with should weigh heavily on those negotiations.

"[People] should know that they have access to reliable EHS services. What happened [Monday] is inexcusable on so many levels."


Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at


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