This edition of Waiting Your Turn indicates that waiting times for elective medical treatment have increased since last year. Specialist physicians surveyed across 12 specialties and 10 Canadian provinces report a total waiting time of 19.0 weeks between referral from a general practitioner and receipt of elective treatment. At 104 percent longer than it was in 1993, this is the longest total wait time recorded since the Fraser Institute began measuring wait times in Canada.
Wait times between 2010 and 2011 increased in both the segment between referral by a general practitioner to consultation with a specialist (rising to 9.5 weeks from 8.9 weeks in 2010), and the segment between a consultation with a specialist and receipt of treatment (rising to 9.5 weeks from 9.3 weeks in 2010). In fact, physicians themselves believe that Canadians wait nearly 3 weeks longer than what they consider is clinically “reasonable” for elective treatment after an appointment with a specialist. There is, however, a great deal of variation in the total waiting time faced by patients across the provinces. While Ontario reports the shortest total wait in 2011 (14.3 weeks); Prince Edward Island reports the longest at 43.9 weeks. The same is true of variations among specialties. Patients wait longest between a GP referral and plastic surgery (41.6 weeks), while those waiting for medical oncology begin treatment in 4.2 weeks.
It is estimated that, across all 10 provinces, in 2011 people are waiting for an estimated 941,321 procedures. This means that, assuming that each person waits for only one procedure, 2.8 percent of Canadians are waiting for treatment. Importantly, physicians report that only about 9.4 percent of their patients are on a waiting list because they requested a delay or postponement. The results of this year’s survey indicate that despite high levels of health expenditure and provincial wait time strategies, it is clear that patients in Canada are waiting too long to receive treatment.