Parents frustrated as Saskatchewan’s only child gastroenterologist leaving province

Krista Reid’s son has been at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon for more than a week dealing with stomach problems that she says doctors are unable to diagnose.

Reid’s eight-year-old Casten Boyer requires Saskatchewan’s only pediatric gastroenterologist for a diagnosis, but she said the specialist is no longer taking new patients and is preparing to leave the province.

That means Casten will have to stay in the hospital until staff find him a specialist out of province.

“Our pediatrician’s hands are tied, and Casten just needs more care than what they can offer here because that specialist isn’t here,” Reid said in an interview. “It’s extremely hard, especially trying to comfort him and calm him down when they are inserting that tube and whatnot.”

Earlier this year, parents who have children with gastrointestinal problems found out that Saskatchewan’s only pediatric gastroenterologist, Dr. Simone Nicol, is ending her services at the end of May. A request for comment to her Saskatoon office was not returned.

The specialist has helped numerous families in Saskatchewan with diagnosing various gastrointestinal issues and providing treatment. Other pediatricians in the province can’t diagnose such problems because they don’t have that scope of practice.

Reid said doctors at the hospital have been treating Casten the best they can and have also been constantly phoning and emailing physicians outside Saskatchewan to see who can help him.

“They have worked tirelessly but they’re flying blind, basically,” she said.

“There’s no help from the big guys. How is this Canada, right? We aren’t supposed to have these issues. Casten shouldn’t have to have a lower standard of care because the government is not on top of things.”

The Ministry of Health said Monday that the Saskatchewan Health Authority is working with doctors and specialists in Western Canada to create “a contingency plan to ensure children receive the care they need.”

The ministry said $2.27 million of increased annual funding is being provided to develop and stabilize a gastrointestinal specialist program in Saskatchewan, with the goal to reduce wait times and help ensure patients receive care close to home.

“The funding increase will support over ten full-time clinical staff to create a multidisciplinary care team based within Saskatoon. The SHA has funding in place to support three pediatric GI specialists in the province,” it stated.

The ministry did not say how many children are affected by the specialist’s departure, though many families have said they expect they’ll have to go out of province to find a new doctor until some are hired in Saskatchewan.

The average wait time was not provided, but some parents have said they’ve had to wait up to six years in Saskatchewan before seeing a specialist.

Reid said her son has been experiencing stomach problems for the past three or four months. His situation became worse about a week ago, she said, requiring hospitalization.

He has not been able to eat and has had fevers, she said, adding doctors have inserted a feeding tube through his nose to ensure he’s being nourished.

“He is, of course, not comfortable and it’s scary. It’s quite traumatic for him and just breaks my heart seeing this,” she said. “And then furthermore, that he has to wait even longer to get the help that he needs is very stressful and frustrating.”

Should Reid find a doctor in another province, she anticipates she’ll have to pay for travel and accommodation costs. Casten will also require follow-up care from that doctor.

The ministry said transportation and accommodation to access care in another province or within Saskatchewan is not covered as an insured service.

Reid said the government needs to find an alternative plan quickly if it can’t hire a new pediatric gastrointestinal specialist immediately.

“This is a big issue here and unfortunately, for some reason, the government isn’t in a hurry to find a solution for us to access out-of-province care or bring someone new in,” Reid said.

“Even if we end up not being able to turn the wheels fast enough, I still want to ensure that other families don’t have to go through this.”

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