Montreal parents frustrated that pediatric health appointment hotline nixed

Natalia Mora, a native of Montreal, has loved a phone service offered by two local children’s hospitals since September, as it ensured her daughter could get medical help quickly if she needed it.

“We called a few times,” Mora said.

“We had an appointment the same day and it was fantastic. We can see a doctor, we got a prescription and then she got better.”

And making appointments quickly was exactly what she needed. Now that her GP has been on leave for the past three years, she knows how difficult it is to get her daughter to see a health professional.

“It was really problematic to get an appointment, but this will get you an appointment the first day or the day after,” Mora said.

Mora’s four-year-old daughter suffers from asthma and often has pneumonia.

Now the hotline has been cut and Mora fears that the next time her daughter falls ill, she will have to wait a long time for the emergency room.

Avoid waiting for the emergency room

When the phone service launched in the fall, the goal was to help relieve congestion in the emergency room at Montreal Children’s and Sainte-Justine hospitals.

The service, called “One Call, One Appointment,” delivered a new single number for the island of Montreal, allowing parents of children under 16 to make a medical appointment for a condition that didn’t require a trip to the emergency room.

It was touted in a press release as a “simple and effective solution to support parents facing a one-time, semi-urgent health problem” by Sainte-Justine’s Dr. Marc Girard.

Instead, the telephone service referred pediatric patients to the approximately 80 family medicine groups or 350 medical clinics on the island.

Since the launch of the appointment line, more than 4,5,000 appointments have been made.

Nhu Nguyen, who works with the medical group that set up the telephone service, said it was a different reality when the line was established in September.

“We were trying to get people back to school,” said Nguyen, a deputy director in Montreal’s Regional Department of General Medicine.

“That has been done and the children are largely back in school.”

As public health restrictions ease and things return to normal, the phone line has been phased out — much to the chagrin of many parents who have spoken to CBC.

Those parents say the hotline was a step in the right direction for pediatric health care, and some are even talking about starting a petition.

Doctor says phone system helped

While hospitals were under pressure in the fall, things aren’t looking much better now, according to Dr. Michel Tran, who works at a clinic in the Ahuntsic neighborhood of Montreal.

“The health care system has been overwhelmed pretty much everywhere,” Tran said.

Parents with sick children have been forced to rely on walk-in clinics because GPs have been booked for ages, Tran said.

Tran said now is not the time to drop a service that was working and he says the hotline provided a reliable support service.

“Ultimately, I know that, for patients, if I’m not available, they can go somewhere,” Tran said.

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