Islanders awaiting allergy testing say wait is too long, putting lives at risk

·4 min read
Health PEI says on average 400 Islanders leave P.E.I. to access the services of an allergist. (CBC - image credit)
Health PEI says on average 400 Islanders leave P.E.I. to access the services of an allergist. (CBC - image credit)

Some Islanders in need of allergy testing say more could be done to speed up access to an allergist.

Right now, blood tests to detect some allergens are available through doctor's offices — but there's no allergist on the Island. That means adults need to travel off-Island for comprehensive testing.

Terri Stewart-MacVane is one of the people in the queue — she has allergic reactions several times a month and develops hives. She's not sure what causes the reaction — and has been waiting for over a year to see an allergist off-Island.

"I'm a little nervous," said Stewart-MacVane, who got a referral in March of 2020.

"I definitely would like to just get it over and done with so that I know what I'm allergic to and just to make sure that I'm safe wherever I am."

Terri Stewart-MacVane says she she has been waiting for more than a year and still doesn't know when she may get scheduled for an appointment with an allergist.
Terri Stewart-MacVane says she she has been waiting for more than a year and still doesn't know when she may get scheduled for an appointment with an allergist.(Sumbitted by Terri Stewart-MacVane)

Stewart-MacVane said living in Oyster Bed Bridge, she worries that her reactions will continue to get worse — and if help is needed, it might not arrive on time.

"It scares me a bit because, of course, at any time an allergy — especially if you're getting hives like that and they're going up your body — at any time it could become anaphylactic," said Stewart-MacVane.

"And I do know that when you live in a rural area in P.E.I., the ambulances might take a bit longer to get to you, and with anaphylactic, you want a prompt response."

Stewart-MacVane said she's heard people are waiting anywhere from 18 months to three years for an appointment. And she'd like to see the province bring an allergist to the Island temporarily — to help reduce wait times.

"I would ask them to consider that, you know, allergies can be a life threatening thing," she said.

"I think that it should be something that's done promptly. And if we need to invest money in this situation, then maybe that needs to be done to get somebody over here."

Hard to quantify

No one with Health PEI was available for an interview on access to allergists for Islanders. But a representative said that on average about 400 people per year need to leave the Island to access the services of an allergist. But data on how many people are currently waiting to see an allergist off-Island — and what the wait times are for those appointments — is hard to track down.

"The numbers are based on referrals sent to out-of-province allergists for this service," said a statement sent to CBC by Health PEI. "The number of referrals are tracked, but we don't receive updates on how many of these referrals have been accepted by the receiving specialist, or details on how or when they are seen or triaged to be seen."

No one with the Halifax clinic Health PEI said handles allergy referrals from the Island returned calls to CBC to confirm the number of Island patients now waiting for an appointment — or what the current wait times are.

Officials with Health PEI said wait times for appointments can range from less than three months for urgent cases, to up to three years for less urgent matters.

Opposition calls for better data

Opposition health critic Trish Altass said it's disappointing to see a lack of information, and transparency when it comes to access to an allergist for Islanders.

'When necessary restrictions on travel are implemented, how do these affect Islanders seeking care,' says Opposition health critic Trish Altass.
'When necessary restrictions on travel are implemented, how do these affect Islanders seeking care,' says Opposition health critic Trish Altass.(CBC)

"Living with unidentified allergies can have a significant impact on the quality of life a person experiences. It can also impact their ability to participate in many activities, including the labour market," said Altass.

Altass would like to see evidence that the leadership team at Health PEI is collecting data on health-care services used by Islanders elsewhere in the region, and using this information to make decisions on how to best meet the medical needs of Islanders.

"It is important for government to be leaning on this knowledge and allow it to inform the decisions being made," said Altass.

"It is also crucial for government to consider impacts across portfolios when making decisions. For example, when necessary restrictions on travel are implemented, how do these affect Islanders seeking care, and how is government adapting to our present realities to ensure Islanders still receive the care they absolutely need?"

Next service review this summer

Officials with Health PEI suggest anyone who suspects an allergy to go see their family doctor, who can counsel them on how to protect themselves.

In a statement, officials said currently, there is no plan to bring an allergist to the Island, on a full-time or temporary basis.

"This has been analyzed and the assessment was that there is not sufficient demand for a full-time allergist. This decision is being reviewed annually, with the next review being this summer."

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