The biggest complaint I’ve heard from patients isn’t actually about the time spent waiting to see the doctor, rather the wait time to get onto the psych unit if they’re being admitted. They might be seen on Friday, but if the beds are full they could be waiting on a stretcher in the hallway of emerg until Monday. There were, of course, patients who had complained about the initial wait time to be seen by the doctor. In the hospital I worked at back home, the psych consult for emerg also worked between three inpatient units, making it difficult for them to quickly see any new or previously admitted patients, which caused a lot of stress for a lot of people. I can’t fault the doctors for that, it’s a lot easier for them if they’re able to see their patients right away. As far as I can tell, it’s a budgeting issue. The mental health care system is seriously lacking sufficient funding, and a side effect of that is not staffing enough doctors to take care of everyone. Not to mention, emergency departments only have so many beds that can hold so many people. I can’t speak for all nurses nor can I even begin to touch on every patient’s opinion, but in my experience, by the time patients were transferred onto my unit, they were so relieved to have a private bed to lie down in that they didn’t bother complaining much to me about how long it took for them to see the doctor. (That’s not to say my nurse friends in emerg don’t have an entirely different story to tell.)

As for my opinion on wait times, whether it’s a physical or psychiatric concern, the difficult truth is that that’s part of living in Canada. We’re incredibly lucky to have a health care system that covers these medical visits, and that means a lot of people are taking full advantage of it and therefore this lead to long wait times. I just hope the patients know that the nurses empathize with them; we want patients to be seen as quickly as possible, too, and it really sucks to see people waiting around in distress. If you’re going to emerge, obviously you feel like your presenting concern is an immediately pressing issue. I can’t imagine the anxiety fuelled on top of whatever brought them in in the first place. Until we get more funding, I’m not sure how much this is going to change. It’s certainly a good first step to make separate emergency departments for psychiatric/physical concerns, but we ultimately need bigger spaces and more staff. I sound like a broken record at this point, but I can’t stress enough how much I want the patients understand that we really do care, and we want to help them as quickly as possible. The reason we might not seem to be in a rush or look like we “care” about it is that it’s our job to maintain a relaxed demeanour, and stressing out about the wait times with or in front of the patients is only going to further exacerbate the situation. Bottom line, we empathize with your frustration. It’s certainly not a good start to a potential hospitalization.

Kristen is a Registered Psychiatric Nurse currently working on Vancouver Island; some of her current worksites include tertiary care, substance recovery, and supported living. Although her nursing career has not been long, Kristen has been an active member of the mental health community since her early teens. She graduated from the Psychiatric Nursing Diploma program at MacEwan University in 2015 and started working in acute psychiatric care shortly thereafter. In 2017, Kristen graduated from the Bachelor of Psychiatric Nursing program via MacEwan University with Distinction. Since then, she has moved to the West Coast and now enjoys exploring her new home and studying for a certificate in Weather Forecasting in her spare time.

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