Pandemic drives healthcare wait times to record highs

'Excessively' delay of 27.4 weeks can lead to lost productivity at work, says expert

Pandemic drives healthcare wait times to record highs

The median wait time to receive healthcare in Canada has reached the "longest ever recorded," thanks to the pandemic and hospital closures that made the situation worse.

Canadian patients are waiting a total of 27.4 weeks for medical treatment, according to the Fraser Institute — compared to 25.6 weeks reported in 2021 and 195% longer than the 9.3 weeks in 1993.

"Despite provincial strategies to reduce wait times and high levels of health expenditure, it is clear that patients in Canada continue to wait too long to receive medically necessary treatment," the Fraser Institute said in a media release.

Per location, the Prince Edward Island recorded the longest wait time with 64.7 weeks, according to the report. Ontario had the shortest with 20.3 weeks, but this was still higher than the 18.5 weeks in 2021.

Per specialty, the report found that the wait times were longest between a referral by a GP and neurosurgical procedures (58.9 weeks). It was the shortest for radiation treatments, at 3.9 weeks.

Poor wages are one of the biggest reasons some health-care workers are leaving the profession, according to a 2021 survey.

COVID, hospital closures blamed

The findings of the Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada report came as the pandemic hit hard the country's healthcare system, shutting health facilities down as many healthcare workforces become thinner due to the crisis.

But the pandemic isn't the only reason to blame for the longer wait times, says Bacchus Barua, director of the Fraser Institute's Centre for Health Policy Studies and co-author of the report.

"COVID-19 and related hospital closures have exacerbated, but are not the cause, of Canada's historic wait times challenges," he says. "Previous results revealed that patients waited an estimated 20.9 weeks for medically necessary elective care in 2019 — long before the pandemic started."

It’s no secret that front-line workers in Canada’s hospitals and health-care facilities have suffered greatly during the COVID pandemic. But a new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows just how dire this misery has been.

The situation is blamed on Canada's healthcare system in general, with Mackenzie Moir, Fraser Institute policy analyst and another co-author of the report, who also warns of its consequences to the workforce and the population. 

"Excessively long wait times remain a defining characteristic of Canada's health-care system," he says. "And they aren't simply minor inconveniences, they can result in increased suffering for patients, lost productivity at work, a decreased quality of life, and, in the worst cases, disability or death."

The Fraser Institute report's response rate was also impacted by the pandemic, but it said it received more than 850 responses across 12 specialties.

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