From an NP perspective, what has it been like to have been a part of these collaborative screening clinics?
It is always very rewarding from a primary care perspective to be part of something that you know will benefit your community. Providing a piece of women’s health screening is something the women of our city should not be denied, but due to our geographic location it remains difficult recruiting and retaining physicians and nurse practitioners providing primary care. This significantly impacts access. Although I am very grateful that the collaborative efforts of our local organizations were able to come together to provide “pop up cervical screening clinics” I remain frustrated by the number of people in our community that do not have primary care providers.
How in your practice, or in your colleagues' practices, have you seen the pandemic impact access to preventative screening?
Multiple variables have impacted access to preventative screening. Firstly, preventative screening was suspended for the first month of the pandemic and in-person visits were scaled back to avoid close contact and to limit contact with other households in the office setting. Once these limitations were lifted, many people remained fearful of attending appointments in office. We have seen an increase in mental health and substance abuse disorders. Chronic disease assessments and cancer screening initiatives were significantly impacted and the pandemic also interfered with scheduled procedures creating an unacceptable backlog. The health care impacts of the pandemic and the long term consequences on the health care system have yet to be realized.
How did you see the first cervical screening clinic support individuals who don’t have access to regular primary care?
The clinic was well attended and the patients were so grateful to be seen. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories about how they have been registered with Health Care Connect for years, or have applied to or called the clinics, and are still waiting to be part of the roster.
Interestingly, we not only saw patients who did not have primary care providers but also saw patients that could not access their primary care providers or who did not feel comfortable with their primary care providers.
How can this type of collaboration between primary care organizations continue to support the unattached population in Algoma through the current primary care shortage?
Honestly, this is a Band-Aid solution. Cervical screening is a small part of primary health care screening. There are so many unattached people in our community with significant health concerns. We have to do more and do better, but without federal and provincial support we do not have the means to expand these clinics to include mental health, chronic disease management, cancer screening, and other primary health care needs.
Going forward, how do you see these types of partnerships positively impacting the health gaps that exist in our community?
Unfortunately, the entire health care system and the way that it is currently functioning is in crisis. I remain hopeful that these partnerships can continue to be creative and find ways to collaboratively provide access for all of our unattached community members. After all, it is a fundamental right of every Canadian. Fixed budgets and lack of primary care providers in the North remain the biggest barriers to access and without Government support/intervention I fear this to be an ongoing problem.