Nova Scotia blood collection clinics ‘overwhelmed’ by appointment calls

A Halifax man says it took him several weeks to schedule a routine blood collection appointment, now that walk-in appointments are no longer an option due COVID-19 restrictions.

“I tried calling different days of the week, I tried different times of the day, I tried calling a few evenings. So, it seemed difficult to reach them no matter when I tried calling,” Seth Wahlin-Stern said.

The delays in blood collection appointments are a direct result of the pandemic changing the way blood collection appointments are scheduled.

The senior director for provincial lab services says this change has led to phone lines being overwhelmed with calls.

“Our system has never been set up to handle the volume of calls that are coming in and I call them ‘hits’ to the system. So, each time someone tries to dial in, whether you get through or not, that’s a hit to the system. And folks are getting frustrated and I completely understand,” said Shauna Thompson, the senior director for the department of pathology and laboratory medicine with Nova Scotia Health.

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Thompson says temporary measures have been put in place to help ease the pressure of backlogged phone calls.

“We’ve increased the number of phone lines. We have 35 phone lines across the province now; there’s 18 in Central Zone. We’ve got 45 staff manning those lines,” Thompson said.

Wahlin-Stern says he’s grateful his blood work wasn’t urgent, but says it’s concerning to think of those with more pressing health care needs, and the wait times they have to go through.

“There are people who have to have blood work done urgently. Where they might pick up on severe health issues because of the blood work or might need to adjust medications because of the blood work, and those kinds of things can’t wait, you can’t wait in a queue for that,” he said.

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According to Thompson, physicians can directly communicate with clinics for urgent matters and staff who answer the phones are trained to identify which requests require immediate attention.

Thompson also says there is a ‘gold standard’ of blood collection appointment scheduling that is currently available at two locations in the province: Colchester Blood Collection in Truro and Woodlawn Blood Collection in Dartmouth.

Thompson says these two clinics have online booking available and that service has been in place prior to the pandemic.

“You can go online on your computer and it opens up calendar and you pick the day and time that you want to come have your blood work done,” she says.

Online booking for blood collection is available at two Nova Scotia clinics. The Nova Scotia Health Authority plans to expand the online booking option to other clinics. Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

Thompson says work is underway to implement online booking options for blood collection clinics across the province.

For now, she says she wants to thank the public for their patience during this unprecedented time.

“I do want to apologize for the frustrations and delays folks are experiencing and we’re trying our very best to get to a much better system in place as quickly as possible,” she said.

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