Nunavut, Canada patients waiting up to a year for eye exams

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Long wait times for eye care in Nunavut, Canada are a concern to patients.  (CBC.ca)
Long wait times for eye care in Nunavut, Canada are a concern to patients. (CBC.ca)

Unlike every other province and territory in Canada, the eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut does not have its own optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Communities are visited by an eye examination team from Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s neighbouring Northwest Territories.

Health Canada pays almost $3 million for the contract, and decides how many days the eye team will visit per year.

Nunavut’s health department then looks at how many people are on the wait list, and develops a schedule.

Darlene McPherson, the head of Health Services in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital city, said some people can wait a year for an appointment.

“Some of them don’t feel happy about it. They feel like we should be a little more flexible, but you have to explain to them that we only have x number of days. We can’t customize visits to every person in every community in the region,” said McPherson.

Staff from Iqaluit’s Baffin Optical travel with the eye team and provide frames.

Darlene McPherson, the head of Health Services in Iqaluit, said they can't customize visits for every person in every community since they only get a certain amount of days a year with eye experts. (CBC)
Darlene McPherson, the head of Health Services in Iqaluit, said they can’t customize visits for every person in every community since they only get a certain amount of days a year with eye experts. (CBC)

Manager Wayne Wheeler has been in Iqaluit for five years. He said communities are getting more service since Stanton has taken over the contract, and better follow up care with prescriptions.

“If there is a mistake made, it’s caught usually within the first three months instead of having to wait the whole year, which is a real benefit to the people,” said Wheeler.

Nunavut may not use eye teams forever. The territory’s health department says as the population of Iqaluit and other communities grow, it may start looking for a part-time optometrist, and then a full-time optometrist in the future.

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