Health-care wait times nearly double over past 2 decades

Average of 18.2 weeks 3 days longer than 2012: Report
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 10/29/2013

Canadians are waiting months, on average, for close medically necessary elective surgeries and diagnostic tests, according to a report by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

The 2013 median waiting time of 18.2 weeks is about three days longer than 2012, and substantially longer than 1993 when it was just 9.3 weeks.

“These protracted wait times exist not because of insufficient spending but because of poor policy. Wait times can be considerably reduced without higher spending or abandoning universality. The key is to better understand the health policy experiences of other more successful universal access health care systems around the developed world such as Australia or Switzerland," said Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute director of health policy studies and the report's co-author.

In 2013, people requiring orthopaedic surgery had to wait more than nine months (39.6 weeks) to receive treatment, while others had to wait for slightly more than four months (17.4 weeks) to receive an appointment with a neurosurgeon.

On the other hand, cancer patients in line for radiation therapy faced the shortest expected wait times for treatment after referral by a general practitioner (3.5 weeks), found Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada.

Currently, one in 34 Canadians may be in pain, off work, or suffering from depression as they wait their turn for treatment.

"Canada is effectively reneging on its promise of universal health care for those citizens forced to endure these long waits. Simply putting someone on a list is not the same as providing necessary medical attention in a timely manner," said Bacchus Barua, Fraser Institute senior health policy analyst and the report's lead author.

The report is based on an annual survey sent to physicians practising in 12 specialties in each of the 10 provinces. It measures the total wait times from a general practitioner referral to treatment, the wait times between GP referral and consultation with a specialist, the wait times between seeing the specialist and receiving treatment, as well as waits for MRI, CT, and ultrasound scans.

In 2013, the delay between GP referral and specialist consultation increased slightly, to 8.6 weeks from 8.5 weeks in 2012 (132 per cent longer than in 1993, when it was 3.7 weeks). The delay from specialist consultation to treatment increased to 9.6 weeks from 9.3 weeks in 2012 (71 per cent longer than in 1993, when it was 5.6 weeks), found the report.

Total waiting time by province

Among the provinces, Ontario has the shortest total wait from GP referral to treatment. While the province has shrunk its waits more than a week to 13.7 weeks in 2013 from 14.9 weeks in 2012, the wait time remains 51 per cent longer than in 1993. By contrast, citizens wait the better part of a year in Prince Edward Island (40.1 weeks), from referral to treatment.

The waiting time to see a specialist has increased in seven provinces since 2012 but decreased in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The shortest waits for specialist consultations are in Ontario (6.7 weeks), Quebec (7.4 weeks) and Manitoba (8.1 weeks). The longest waits for specialist consultations occur in P.E.I. (24.9 weeks), New Brunswick (20.3 weeks) and Newfoundland and Labrador (14.0 weeks).

The shortest specialist-to-treatment waits are found in Ontario (7.1 weeks), Newfoundland and Labrador (9.6 weeks) and Quebec and British Columbia (10.4 weeks each). Those in Manitoba (17.8 weeks), P.E.I. (15.3 weeks) and Saskatchewan (14.1 weeks) faced the longest waits, said the Fraser Institute.

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