Nova Scotia

Increasing number of N.S. patients leaving emergency rooms without treatment, records show

Records obtained by the provincial NDP show 43,000 people walked away from an ER last year, up 60 per cent from the year before. 

Documents from the provincial health authority released after NDP request

Data obtained by the NDP shows that 43,000 people left a Nova Scotia emergency room in 2021 without being seen by a doctor or other health-care professional for treatment for their injury or ailment. (Shutterstock)

A growing number of Nova Scotians are leaving emergency rooms without being seen by a doctor, according to documents released by the province's health authority through a freedom of information request.

Records obtained by the provincial NDP show 43,000 people walked away from an ER last year, up 60 per cent from the year before. 

The figures don't explain why people are leaving ERs. However, the opposition party said in a July 7 news release it's likely because people are frustrated by lengthy wait times.

"We need to stop hearing the government say it's going to get worse before it gets better," said Kendra Coombes, MLA for Cape Breton Centre-Whitney Pier.

"Start acting and behaving in a way that says these numbers are not acceptable and we're going to take real action here."

Coombes said she often hears from people who have waited upwards of eight and nine hours without receiving treatment at local hospitals, such as the Cape Breton Regional in Sydney.

Nearly 95,000 waiting for family doctor 

In 2021, almost 10,000 people left an ER in the province's eastern health zone, which covers Cape Breton, along with Antigonish and Guysborough.

Coombes said that one of the biggest reasons why ERs are clogged is because so few people have access to primary care. According to Nova Scotia Health, there are nearly 95,000 people on a provincial wait list for a family doctor.

"I think access to primary care is one of the problems that we're seeing," said Coombes. "Absolutely. That is a problem. The lack of primary care, the lack of family doctors that people have access to."

Adam Young recently left an ER in Cape Breton without receiving the antibiotics he needed.

'I will find some other way'

The 42-year-old has been without a family doctor for two years, so he called 811 looking for guidance. 

After waiting hours for a return call from 811, Young said he was advised to head to a local hospital.

The first ER he visited was closed, but he said the second hospital was confusing and crowded. 

"People in there seemed much, much more in need of care than I did. And I thought, no, I will find some other way."

Young eventually travelled over an hour to a rural hospital where he saw a doctor within two hours. 

Nova Scotia's Minister of Health Michelle Thompson was not available for an interview with CBC News.

In an emailed statement, Thompson said emergency departments around the country are facing higher demands for a variety of reasons.

And she said there are also many reasons why people leave ERs after being triaged.

"In some cases, patients may start to feel better, are provided medication (Tylenol) to relieve their pain or decide to wait to see their family doctor and advise the nurse that they are leaving."

Thompson said her government is committed to getting rid of long waits, but did not provide any specifics on how to do that. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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