Ottawa mammogram services so heavily booked woman must wait 4 weeks despite cancer scare

When Rachelle Gagnon went to see her family doctor for a routine physical on Aug. 22, she was shocked to learn she had a lump in her breast. 

Adding to her worry, Gagnon was told she’d have to wait until Sept. 18 — nearly four weeks — for a mammogram in her home of Ottawa, even though her doctor called her situation an “emergency.”

“I was shocked,” Gagnon said. “Especially when my family doctor felt that I should be seen within a week.”

Gagnon started calling diagnostic clinics around the city to try to book an earlier appointment, but learned several had closed, and those that remained open were swamped.

After four hours spent calling around, Gagnon was finally able to get an appointment about 100 kilometres away in Cornwall, Ont., within a week of the discovery.

“I think it’s completely unreasonable,” Gagnon said. “I should be able to get it within the city that I live in.” 

‘Complex and challenging’

In an emailed statement, the Ottawa Hospital said it “triages mammogram referrals according to urgency so that we can meet the Ontario Breast Screening Program standard to see patients who require a diagnostic mammogram within three weeks.”  

Ontario Ministry of Health spokesperson David Jensen said in another emailed statement that the Ottawa Hospital closed its breast scanning clinic at the Riverside campus in order to consolidate services and “provide a more efficient and comfortable experience for those going through diagnosis and or treatment.”

Equipment from the Riverside campus was transferred to the hospital’s Hampton Park breast screening clinic, while The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at the hospital’s General campus will now handle diagnosis. 

“The reorganization of services can be both complex and challenging,” Jensen wrote. “Due to consolidation, some sites are experiencing longer than normal wait times for screening mammography.”  

‘Who wants to go through this?’

Gagnon believes it shouldn’t be left to women facing the prospect of a breast cancer diagnosis to navigate a confusing and inadequate system.

“I was surprised there wasn’t a better system in place to put people ahead of the list who needed to be moved up,” she said. “

Denis Potosky, co-owner of Canadian Medical Alliance, a company that provides mammograms at three private clinics in Ottawa, said the wait for a diagnostic breast scan at those facilities is currently four weeks.  

“If someone is referred by a doctor and it’s marked stat, an urgent case, we’ll make ourselves available, but we can only take on so many like this,” he said.

Potosky said within the Champlain Local Health Integration Network, which coordinates health care in eastern Ontario, urgent referrals should be triaged centrally so patients like Gagnon aren’t left on their own to book an appointment.

He agreed making women wait four weeks after finding out they may have a cancerous tumour is unacceptable.   

“Every day of your life before your appointment is a nightmare,” Potosky said. “Who wants to go through this? Nobody, because no one wants to have doubts about their health.”

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