Health critic says lab wait times need to be addressed


An Edmonton NDP MLA wants issues with wait times for laboratory tests and diagnostics addressed by the provincial government.

Health critic David Shepherd has written a letter to new Health Minister Adriana LaGrange urging her to take the necessary steps and actions needed to address healthcare issues in the province.

Shepherd said in an interview with The Herald last week he has heard about long waits to get lab appointments and results in Edmonton, Calgary as well as Lethbridge.

One Lethbridge resident, who didn’t want to be identified, told the Herald this week that this individual’s family doctor said that results from tests from DynaLife could take up to three weeks.

In his letter to LaGrange, Shepherd wrote “in recent months, Albertans have expressed their disappointment and worries that they cannot get timely testing done. Some are waiting over a month to just get an appointment. Doctors and other health professionals cannot continue work without quick access to testing and diagnostics.

“We are hearing specifically about long waits here in Edmonton, as well as in Calgary and Lethbridge, although complaints have come from elsewhere, as well. Doctors have spoken about instances where they simply do not hear back from labs when they order tests and that results are being sent to the wrong location. Albertans should be able to trust that they can access health care when and where they need it, yet now Albertans do not have confidence they can receive test results when they need to.”

He told The Herald that in Calgary some people are waiting between four to six weeks just to get an appointment.

“We’re hearing from health professionals they’re seeing big delays in getting tests turned around even once they’re sent in. So it does seem to be centred largely in Calgary.”

And given LaGrange’s history as former education minister, Shepherd says he’s not optimistic about her working collaboratively toward a solution.

“It is a mess,” he said of the privatization of laboratories.

He said a lot of people in Lethbridge are finding it less accessible to get testing done.

“The situation is a crisis. This is something that could severely impact somebody’s health outcomes when they’re waiting for a test that is part of the diagnostic process that allows their doctor then to take action on potentially a life-threatening condition – that they are facing extreme delays in accessing that testing then can have a serious impact on their health,” said Shepherd.

That impact can also be on a patient’s mental health, he added.

“The anxiety this creates for people in a system where we already have intense pressures and this also then increases pressures on the system where people cannot access supports in the community that diagnostics, in the community that can end up driving them to the emergency room.

Shepherd says he’s heard medical professionals are telling people they’re better off going to an emergency department than waiting for a lab appointment to get their results faster.

“So that’s adding more pressure in the system at a lot of different levels. It’s increasing the crisis,” said Shepherd.

“We really do not need to be seeing additional pressure there (in ERs) when people are being sent there to get care that they should be able to access in the community. But unfortunately that’s what we’ve seen repeatedly under the UCP government. And even while Danielle Smith has repeatedly over the last few months tried to claim there is no crisis in the healthcare system, it’s been quite clear for both patients, people trying to access care, and those who are providing it, that the crisis is real and it’s getting worse.”

Shepherd said Alberta “had a functioning system until the UCP broke it. They intentionally did this. We had created stability in laboratory services, we had a plan to move forward under our government with the construction of the Edmonton clinical lab hub and people had reasonable wait times. The UCP government came in, they cancelled the construction of the lab hub at a cost of millions of dollars to the public and they drove forward with an agenda of privatizing community lab services, of finding ways to squeeze more private profit out of that public health service. They spent three years on this process and that final contract that they signed with DynaLife, that went into effect of the last year and within weeks of DynaLife of taking over that system, it was broken,” with soaring wait times that continue to worsen, said the MLA.

“We had a functioning system, the UCP intentionally broke it. Albertans are paying the price.”

He said LaGrange has to take a serious look at what resources are available to deal with the crisis that Shepherd said requires immediate action.

“LaGrange needs to sit down with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Precision Laboratories to find a solution. The infrastructure that was there under Alberta Precision Laboratories likely still exists, of course we need the staff, we need the personnel, but there is a possibility we may be able to activate some of those pieces of the system that were shut down after the privatization to help meet the current need. But ultimately, they need to be ensuring that DynaLife is able to follow through on the terms of its contract and if it’s not, perhaps we need to return to the public system that was working well,” added Shepherd.

He said the system under Alberta Precision Labs was functioning well.

“The impacts of this absolutely resonate across the province.”

Shepherd said he’s looking forward to seeing what direction the premier might choose to take the matter.

“I certainly have my concerns given that Premier Smith spent so much of her career over the last 15 years advocating for Albertans to pay out of pocket for health care, for more privatization of healthcare services. So I don’t have a lot of faith that they’re necessarily going to make the right decisions,” he added.

He said LaGrange, when she was in the Education portfolio, did not work collaboratively with teachers, educational staff, school boards or even parent councils.

“Instead she went to war with them, she attacked, she was incredibly aggressive and antagonistic.