Staff lack means long wait for epilepsy tests

The Beacon Herald - - NEWS - JONATHAN SHER POST­MEDIA NEWS

We’re re­ally hop­ing the hos­pi­tal and (Lon­don) MPPs cham­pion the is­sue.” Michelle Franklin

Peo­ple with or sus­pected of hav­ing epilepsy are wait­ing as long as a year for a test in Lon­don, thanks to a shortage of staff made worse af­ter a hos­pi­tal fired a tech­ni­cian later charged with drug­ging and sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a pa­tient.

Pa­tients who wait to be di­ag­nosed and treated are placed at greater risk of seizures, in­juries and even death, the head of a sup­port and ed­u­ca­tion agency says.

“It’s dev­as­tat­ing,” said Michelle Franklin, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Epilepsy South­west­ern On­tario, who has never seen waits so long in her 14 years with the agency. “It’s pretty heart­break­ing.”

The toll is emo­tional, too — about 30 per cent of peo­ple with epilepsy also have a men­tal ill­ness, she said, and the long waits un­der­mine their con­fi­dence that their con­di­tions will be man­aged well.

Lon­don Health Sci­ences Cen­tre (LHSC) al­ways has been seen in On­tario as a cen­tre for ex­cel­lence in di­ag­nos­ing and treat­ing the 3,000 to 4,000 peo­ple in the Lon­don re­gion with epilepsy, Franklin said.

But the long waits for out­pa­tients threaten that rep­u­ta­tion and un­der­mine a great team of doc­tors, nurses and other health pro­fes­sion­als, she said.

Waits for out­pa­tients have grown to be­tween 10 and 12 months be­cause while the hos­pi­tal re­ceives fund­ing for seven full-time EEG tech­ni­cians, only three po­si­tions are filled. A fourth tech­ni­cian is on leave, a hos­pi­tal spokesper­son said.

While the hos­pi­tal re­cently hired one full-timer and one part-timer, nei­ther is cer­ti­fied, which means they must be su­per­vised by other tech­ni­cians while do­ing their first 500 EEGs.

The elec­troen­cephalo­gram test uses elec­trodes to de­tect ab­nor­mal elec­tri­cal dis­charges that might be as­so­ci­ated with epilepsy or other dis­or­ders.

“Re­cruit­ment is un­der­way for ad­di­tional tech­ni­cians,” hos­pi­tal spokesper­son Kathy Leblanc wrote.

One such tech­ni­cian was lost two months ago af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that led to crim­i­nal charges not yet tested in court against 24-year-old EEG tech­ni­cian Vincent Gau­thier, but it seems clear from the num­bers that his dis­missal only am­pli­fied the short­fall.

Those deemed more ur­gently in need of care get an EEG test more quickly, Leblanc said.

But for pa­tients and their fam­i­lies, each of their cases seems ur­gent, es­pe­cially be­cause it can be chal­leng­ing to find the cause of seizures and to man­age that cause with surgery or med­i­ca­tion.

The chal­lenge is made more dif­fi­cult when pa­tients must wait for sev­eral months to be hooked up to elec­trodes that mea­sure elec­tri­cal ac­tiv­ity in the brain and help lo­cate ab­nor­mal dis­charges, Franklin said.

“We’re re­ally hop­ing the hos­pi­tal and (Lon­don) MPPs cham­pion the is­sue,” she said.

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