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Taking the pain out of medical travel

The Nunavut Department of Health spent $92.5 million on insured medical travel in 2018-19, an increase of eight per cent from $85.5 million the previous year.

Medical travel is sometimes fraught with complications for patients and for the Department of Health when passengers don’t catch their flights. NNSL file photo

However, six per cent of medical travellers – patients and escorts – didn’t show up for their flights. That amounted to 5,860 Nunavummiut who failed to board planes.

There were slightly more no-shows heading back to their home communities – 55 per cent – than those who didn’t catch their flights heading south.

Health Minister George Hickes spoke about the hardships created by medical travel no-shows in the legislative assembly in November.

“It has been raised to me a couple of times from airline executives what a challenge that is when they are trying to schedule their flights and the amount of seats that are available on a plane, they may be turning away passengers because medical travel is a priority going to an appointment,” said Hickes. “They may be turning away passengers and then we have medical travel patients that do not show up. Those are seats the airline could have sold.”

Patients sometimes experience their own difficulties with medical travel. One resident in the Qikiqtani region, who preferred to remain anonymous, told Nunavut News that he and a relative were only notified of an available medical flight as the aircraft was landing in their community. There wasn’t near enough time to arrange for child care.

“So we cancelled the appointment,” he said.

Another Nunavummiuq who resides in the Kitikmeot and who also requested anonymity, said he recently had his health travel postponed three weeks due to “no room.” He also urged all medical travellers and escorts to “triple check” their appointment times because he said he arrived in Yellowknife on a medical flight with an incorrect hour to show up for his consultation.

“It does get frustrating… normally it’s all good, but something happened I don’t know what happened,” he said of the ordeal.

The Department of Health stated that it’s “continuously working toward improvements to medical travel service and operation through optimized central, regional and inter-agency communications, additional staff training and recruitment, and enhanced public education.”