Health minister calls for immediate action to address Saskatchewan HealthLine 811 backlog

As Saskatchewan grapples with its first presumptive case of COVID-19, the province’s HealthLine 811, for people with healthcare questions, is experiencing a significant backlog.

Global News called the service. Three of the four calls did not go through. When Global News was successful and attempted to move onto the next step of speaking with a nurse, there were 29 callers ahead in the queue.

At a press conference at the legislature Thursday, Health Minister Jim Reiter said he has asked for an action plan by Friday to deal with the issue.

“Obviously, 811 is going to play a huge role in this moving forward. We need to ensure that it’s operating adequately,” Reiter said.

Chief medical health officer Saqib Shahab said many of the calls coming in are from people with “general questions.”

“I don’t think that’s a proper use of HealthLine,” said Shahab, who encourages people who may fall into that category to visit the provincial government’s COVID-19 information page.

As it stands, HealthLine is working to streamline and triage calls, Shahab said. The service is working to triage those who have recently travelled and/or attended a large gathering and are symptomatic.

An increase in call volume is proving to be an issue elsewhere in the country as well.

A surge in calls to British Columbia’s 811 health line is related to coronavirus inquiries, according to that province’s government, which announced an additional call centre to help ease the burden.

British Columbia’s 811 line typically receives 1,200 calls per day. This week, it’s been getting an average of 3,800 calls per day.

In Saskatchewan, 285 people have been tested for COVID-19: 263 people tested negative, one person tested presumptive positive and 22 people’s results are pending.

The province is also experiencing a backlog processing health card applications. Shahab said because COVID-19 is a public health issue, people in Saskatchewan who need to be tested will be tested regardless of their coverage situation.

Concerned about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials say the risk is very low for Canadians, but they caution against travel to affected areas (a list can be found here). If you do travel to these places, they recommend you self-monitor to see whether you develop symptoms and if you do, to contact public health authorities.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing – very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

– With files from Richard Zussman

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