No improvement in health care wait times as Canadians still wait more than 18 weeks for surgery

New study reports a median wait time of 18.3 weeks for surgery, up slightly from 18.2 weeks in 2014.

Fraser Institute

VANCOUVER—The median wait time for Canadians seeking medically necessary surgery or other therapeutic treatment remains stagnant for the third consecutive year, finds a new study released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

The study, an annual survey of physicians from across the country, reports a median wait time of 18.3 weeks, up slightly from 18.2 weeks in 2014. In 1993, the wait time was just 9.3 weeks.

The study examines the total wait time faced by patients across 12 medical specialities from referral by a general practitioner (ie: a family doctor) to consultation with a specialist, and subsequent receipt of treatment.

“These protracted wait times are not the result of insufficient spending but because of poor policy. In fact, it’s possible to reduce wait times without higher spending or abandoning universality.

The key is to better understand the health policy experiences of other more successful universal health care systems around the developed world,” said Bacchus Barua, senior economist at the Fraser Institute’s Centre for Health Policy Studies and author of Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, 2015 Report.

On a provincial basis, Saskatchewan now has the shortest waits in the country at 13.6 weeks, a dramatic turnaround from 2011 when it was among the country’s longest wait times (29.0 weeks). It’s followed by Ontario (14.2 weeks), Quebec (16.4 weeks), and Manitoba (19.4 weeks), which has also decreased wait times since its 2013 high of 25.9 weeks.

For the third consecutive year, British Columbia recorded an increase in wait times with its median wait now sitting at 22.4 weeks.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic provinces face the longest median wait times: Prince Edward Island (43.1 weeks) followed closely by New Brunswick (42.8 weeks) and Newfoundland and Labrador (42.7 weeks). However, the number of survey responses in Atlantic Canada were lower than other provinces which may result in reported median wait times being higher or lower than those actually experienced.

Among the various specialities, the longest referral-to-treatment wait times exist for patients requiring orthopaedic surgery — the treatment of ailments related to bones, joints, and muscles — at 35.7 weeks and neurosurgery (27.6 weeks), surgery performed on the nervous system.

In fact, patients requiring such treatments can expect to wait over 15 weeks to just get a consultation with a specialist after getting a referral from their family doctor.

“These wait times for medically necessary treatment in Canada are not simply minor inconveniences.

They can result in pain and suffering for patients, contribute to lost productivity at work, decreased quality of life, and in the worst cases, disability and death,” Barua said.

On a somewhat better note, patients face much shorter referral-to-treatment wait times, relative to other treatments, for radiation oncology (4.1 weeks) and medical oncology (4.5 weeks) — specialties involved in the treatment of cancer.



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