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Some Edmonton-area patients are waiting 7-9 months for CT scans

WATCH: According to Alberta Health, the Edmonton-area wait time for a CT scan is the same as the provincial average, but patients tell Global News they're having to wait until next spring, or even summer. Su-Ling Goh reports.

Global News has heard from several patients and doctors who are frustrated with long wait times for CT scans in the Edmonton area. Some can’t get an appointment until spring or summer next year.

Computerized tomography (CT) is an imaging tool to detect and monitor diseases like cancer, or internal masses and infections.

READ MORE: CT scanner now operational at Leduc Community Hospital

Elizabeth Galbraith went to the Sherwood Park emergency in September for chest pain. After a doctor noticed something on her x-ray, he ordered a CT scan for her. Her appointment is for April 8, 2020.

“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?'” Galbraith told Global News.

“I’ve had (breast) cancer twice, now I’ve got an x-ray that doesn’t look good… I’m supposed to wait seven months to see if I’m OK?”

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Elaine Healey went to her doctor in early October for a possible kidney problem. An ultrasound showed an issue, but her doctor told her she wouldn’t get in for CT scan until next summer.

“(The doctor) had, that very day, tried to book a similar appointment for another patient with a more serious issue… and their appointment wouldn’t show up until June 2020,” said Healey.

On Friday, Healey provided an update to Global News. She said central booking called her Friday morning and told her her CT scan appointment had been moved up. Healey is now scheduled to get her scan in two weeks.

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Six doctors expressed concerns to Global News, but declined an interview. Uro-oncologist Ron Moore sent an email:

“I have indeed run into prolonged wait times for patients to get an outpatient (OP) CT scan. Even OP 1, the highest priority, are waiting months for to get in. In my discussion with the radiologist the reason for the recent change is due to decreased (cut back) funding of OP CT scans.

“I have had to go and plead a preoperative case several times now to get it done in a timely fashion.”

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Several sources told Global News there was an upper-level directive to cut back on CT scans.

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“No, no, that’s completely false, that’s not true at all… That’s a gigantic misunderstanding,” said Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

Wait times for CT and MRI scans on the rise in Alberta
Wait times for CT and MRI scans on the rise in Alberta

According to Alberta Health, 90 per cent of CT scans in the Edmonton area are done within 14 weeks, which is the same as the provincial average.

As for urgent scans, 90 per cent are done within five weeks, but wait times for those have increased in the past couple of months.

“Our ministry and AHS (Alberta Health Services) are monitoring the situation closely,” said Shandro. “I have spoken to AHS about this a few times over the last few weeks.”

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Shandro says it’s up to AHS to be efficient. He points out Alberta spends up to 50 per cent more per scan than Ontario or British Columbia.

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AHS’ executive director of Issues Management, Kerry Williamson, explained the increase in wait times is due to a spike in demand and the end of one-time surge funding, which was provided by the NDP government last year.

“Volumes (of CT scans) were increased last year 2018-19 on a one-time basis outside the established budget to deal with wait time pressures,” Williamson wrote in an email. “Planned volume this fiscal year is returning to the same volume prior to the upsurge.”

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AHS is working with doctors to ensure priority is given to urgent cases.

READ MORE: How do emergency room wait times differ in Alberta’s 3 major cities?

Both Galbraith and Healey are on a wait list, hoping for a cancellation so they can get their scans sooner.

“It’s kind of upsetting having to wait so long for a CT appointment because we know in this day and age that early diagnosis, early detection is so important,” said Healey, a teacher.

“Sometimes I get nervous… especially when I… wake up in the middle of the night,” said Galbraith, a retired psychologist.

“It’s like, ‘Oh my God, am I going to go through (cancer) again?'”