Nova Scotia

NDP calls for more mental health services for cancer patients after heart-rending video

Mental health care in the form of social workers, cancer patient navigators and psychologists is available for cancer patients, the province says. But the N.S. mother, whose video about her fight with cancer went viral, says accessing them isn't easy.

‘This is a problem that has a solution,’ says Gary Burrill

NDP leader Gary Burrill is calling for better mental-health supports after Inez Rudderham's tear-filled video went viral. (Inez Rudderham/Facebook/CBC)

In the wake of an emotionally charged video of a mother describing her struggles with the Nova Scotia health-care system, the provincial NDP is calling for more mental health supports for those living with cancer.

Inez Rudderham tearfully spoke about her difficulty getting a cancer diagnosis and accessing mental health services in a Facebook video that's been viewed 2.5 million times since Tuesday.

"I don't see how anyone could watch that video and not not be deeply moved," said NDP leader Gary Burrill.

Rudderham challenged Premier Stephen McNeil to "take a meeting with me … and tell me that there is no health-care crisis."

McNeil said Thursday that he asked the Nova Scotia Health Authority to get in contact with her, but he wouldn't commit to a meeting.

Waiting for an appointment since January

In an interview with CBC News, Rudderham said she felt she didn't get the information she needed to seek mental-health resources when she was first diagnosed.

"I was in no mental state to even know when my appointments were, because I was literally fighting for my life and had a lot of physical issues," she said.

Inez Rudderham says her mental-health options were not clearly explained to her when she began treatment. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Rudderham said she was given an appointment with a social worker toward the beginning of her treatment, which she didn't make it to, and one when her treatment ended in September.

In January, Rudderham said she once again saw the social worker to continue pursuing mental-health services, but was recently told she would have to wait until July for an appointment.

"She was a lovely clinician, but was very vocal about being overworked and not having the appointment schedule that she had hoped for," said Rudderham. "She hoped to see me sooner."

Rudderham's cancer is now in remission.

Supports are in place for cancer patients, says province

Speaking with reporters Friday, Health Minister Randy Delorey said the Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program includes psychological supports as part of its comprehensive program.

"I believe the last I heard about the psychological services provided through the cancer care of Nova Scotia and oncology services is an exportation within two weeks of receiving those types of services," he said.

Health Minister Randy Delorey says the Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program has a psychiatrist on staff to help patients with their treatment. (CBC)

John Gillis, spokesperson for the Nova Scotia Health Authority, says psychosocial supports are available for both patients and their families.

"The range of services varies across the province, however, video technology enables the program to reach patients where some services are not available," he wrote in an email. "Psychosocial oncology specialists include: social workers, cancer patient navigators, spiritual care providers, advance practice nurses, and psychologists."

Gillis added that the Nova Scotia Cancer Care Program also provides support to oncology nurses to help them care for their patients.

The NSHA website says these supports continue after the patient is discharged from the program.

The authority confirmed it had made contact with Rudderham, but it did not provide further details due to privacy legislation.

'We can do better than that'

Burrill said Rudderham's delay in accessing mental health care — as well as delays for other Nova Scotians — is "a problem that has a solution."

"This is a matter of hiring the therapists, the counsellors, the mental health clinicians, and putting them in place so that when people come forward with serious mental health crises, they're able to be seen on a same day or next-day basis," he said. 

Burrill said it is something that has been accomplished elsewhere and can be accomplished in Nova Scotia.

"(Rudderham) is absolutely right that it is unconscionable that anyone in our province should come forward with a serious mental health crisis and be told, 'Yes, we're glad to see you, and you'll be able to speak to a mental health clinician in five or six months from now.'"

Gary Burrill says the mental health system can be fixed. (Robert Short/CBC News)

According to Nova Scotia's health-care website, wait times for urgent addictions and mental health cases are between seven and 18 days. For non-urgent cases, wait times can vary between 15 and 277 days, depending on the clinic.

Burrill said the main issue with access to mental health care is Nova Scotia's "two-tiered system," where people with insurance or those who can afford private mental-health care can get the access they need, while those who don't have insurance and can't afford to pay a therapist have to deal with extensive wait times.

"This is unconscionable for us to have two totally separate systems — one for people with money that works with some expeditiousness, and one for people of average, normal means that doesn't work with any expeditiousness at all," he said. 

"We can do better than that."