That’s according to a letter from SHA’s Saskatoon Psychiatry Pool Referral system to Dr. Marlys Misfeldt.
It states “the Saskatoon Adult Psychiatry Department has received unprecedented volumes of referrals” since the COVID-19 pandemic and the program “has a backlog of over 300 unassigned patients.”
It was an answer to a question Misfeldt didn’t ask.
She told Global News she referred the patient to the pooled referral system 10 days ago and was waiting to hear if the patient got an appointment or was placed on a waiting list — which the letter didn’t actually say.
“(It) didn’t tell me anything…just left me unsure what’s happening next,” she said.
Misfeldt said the lack of communication and treatment amounts to “ongoing frustration” and that it “certainly does not offer me any hope in that this patient is on someone’s list and will eventually be seen.”
The letter arrived one week after the system rejected a different patient whom Misfeldt had also referred for further psychiatric help.
The letter recommended Misfeldt continue to use the referral system, despite the backlog, that she use the LINK system, wherein the family physician speaks to a psychiatrist about how to treat a patient or to contact one of eight psychiatrists in Saskatoon who don’t use the referral system.
Misfeldt had already referred her patient to an out-of-system psychiatrist but that doctor declined to take them on.
Speaking via Zoom, she said contacting others psychiatrists individually takes time and every rejection means the patient waits even longer.
Many Saskatoon psychiatrists, as well as several other fields of medicine, like cardiology, gynecology and orthopedic surgeons, use the pooled referral system, wherein a physician submits a patients’ name not to a specific doctor but into a database. The system is designed to route a patient to the specialist with the shortest waitlist.
According to a joint statement from the SHA, the Ministry of Health and the Saskatoon Psychiatry Pool Referral issued last week, “the capacity of pooled referral psychiatrists is significantly below the rate of incoming referrals.”
“As a result a measurable portion of referrals yet remain to be assigned and accepted to be seen.”
The statement, issued on Thursday, said the system “has achieved measurable success” since the SHA implemented it in June of 2019.
Physicians have issued 5,900 referrals into the system and 4,400 are active — meaning those patients have seen a psychiatrist, were assigned to a psychiatrist or are on a waitlist.
A statement from the Saskatoon Psychiatry Pool Referral on Monday said the average wait time for a patient to see a psychiatrist, once they’re booked to be seen, is approximately four to six months.
But Misfeldt said the entire process can longer than a year. She said two patients had been waiting six months, one nine months and one has been waiting 15 months.
The statement also said the system is voluntary, includes 22 psychiatrists and that it has received as many as 305 average referrals since it was created.
But the pool system and SHA clarified on Monday that only one triage nurse handles the referrals.
A statement from the pool system said “enhancing the triage capacity would improve services” and that the roll “needs to be enhanced so that more can be done to liaise with referring family physicians and with patients directly to refine the best type of services.”
The statement also said referrals can be rejected if the referring physician or patient cancels it, if the patient can’t be reached or if the problem can be managed by other resources in the system sooner.
Misfeldt, via text, said the patient who the system rejected last week never received a letter or phone call. The letter itself did not specify what other resources were available — it simply read “the specialist has decided that the referral is not required and has cancelled this referral. If you have further questions please contact the specialist’s office directly.”
Misfeldt said she will continue to treat both patients.