Nunavut Health Minister Continuing Medical Travel System Review

Emergency Sign on a Hospital

On March 8, 2018, Nunavut Minister of Health Pat Angnakak has stated that her department will complete the comprehensive review of the medical travel system in Nunavut which began under the previous Minister of Health. The review responds to concerns that administrative mistakes in the medical travel system are wasting government funds and patient time.

Medical travel is an incredibly important service in Nunavut. As noted by the CBC, the territory has 25 remote fly-in communities and only one hospital, Iqaluit’s Qikiqtani General Hospital. As a result, many residents of Nunavut require medical transport to reach the territory’s hospital. Further, the Qikiqtani Hospital is not able to treat every patient’s health care needs, so patients are regularly sent south for treatment. There are six medical boarding homes outside of Nunavut (two located in Manitoba, and one located in each of the Northwest Territories, Ontario, and Alberta), set up to accommodate patients who have travelled to out of province facilities. There is also one medical boarding house in Iqaluit to accommodate patients flown into Iqaluit for treatment from outside the city.

Minister Angnakak’s statement responded directly to Aivilik Minister of the Legislative Assembly (“MLA”) Patterk Nester’s concern that “there is a systemic failure to provide good services in the area of medical travel.” Specifically, MLA Nester is concerned by reports that, as a result of administrative mismanagement, patients are being sent to hospitals only to find that they do not have an appointment. This is only exacerbated by the regular flight delays because of inclement weather, leaving patients stranded out of province until the weather clears. Further, over the past year the Nunavut medical travel system has received a slew of bad press, ranging from allegations that patients were bumped from a flight in favour of tourists, to allegations of families not being informed that their family members had been flown out of their community to the Qikiqtani Hospital, to complaints surrounding medical escorts for pregnant women. MLA Nester’s concerns do not come out of nowhere.

Previous Minster of Health George Hickes began the review in July of 2017. Minister Angnakak reportedly hopes to have the review finished by 2019, and recommendations for improving the medical travel system should follow.

The CBC reports that Minister Angnakak also stated that she has proposed establishing a new medical boarding home to Federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, who was receptive to the idea. The home would be located somewhere in the Kivalliq region; MLA Nester’s Aivilik district is part of this region. The hope is that such a boarding home would ease some of the burden on the medical travel system.

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.