Wait times for ultrasounds longer on P.E.I.

P.E.I. has failed to meet national targets for acceptable wait times for ultrasound examinations this year. The Department of Health says it was the result of a staff shortage that has now been fixed.

Department of Health says staff shortage now solved

For urgent ultrasound exams, Islanders waited on average four days longer than the national target of 14 days. (CBC)

Islanders have been waiting too long for ultrasound examinations, according to statistics from the provincial health department.

The numbers show the province failed to meet national wait time targets through much of 2017.

For urgent ultrasound exams, the national wait time target is 14 days. Islanders waited 18 days on average.

For semi-urgent cases, the national target is 28 days. Islanders waited more than double that — 72 days on average.

And for non-urgent exams, with a target of 84 days wait, Islanders waited on average 147 days.

Four workers took maternity leave

When contacted, the P.E.I. Health Minister Robert Henderson blamed a staff shortage that has now been addressed.

"We have now got back up to our full complement of 10 ultrasound technicians," he said. "We hope that as the volumes get back to a more normal amount we'll see those wait times be back down to the more the national standards."

The most recent wait time numbers are for the three-month period that ended in September. The three-month period April through June showed similar trends.  Before April, wait times on P.E.I. met national targets.

Henderson said the staff shortage resulted when four workers took maternity leave.

Emergency cases top priority

"Like many other health-care professional positions, there's general shortages across the country and there's a real demand for recruiting these individuals and it's a very competitive market place,"  Henderson said.

P.E.I. also had a staff shortage a couple of years ago, but wait times improved when those vacancies were filled.

The minister said he'd consider increasing staff levels if case loads increase. He said he also wants to make sure doctors are "choosing wisely" when referring patients for ultrasound examinations, to prevent needless procedures.

The department of health wait-time statistics do not include emergency cases. They continue to receive top priority.

With files from Kerry Campbell