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Wait times for surgery vault to record high of 19 weeks in Canada

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Release Date: December 12, 2011
VANCOUVER, BC—Canadians seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment faced a median wait time of 19.0 weeks in 2011, the longest wait time since 1993 when the Fraser Institute first began measuring wait times.

The median surgical wait time in 2011 jumped to 19.0 weeks from 18.2 weeks in 2010, exceeding the previous all-time high of 18.3 weeks recorded in 2007, according to the 21st annual edition of Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, released today by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think-tank.

“Canadians are being forced to wait almost four-and-a-half months, on average, to receive surgical care, prolonging the pain and suffering patients and their families are forced to endure,” said Mark Rovere, Fraser Institute associate director of health policy research and co-author of the report.

“Despite significant increases in government health spending, Canadians are still waiting too long to access medically necessary treatment.

The Waiting Your Turn report uses the survey responses of Canadian physicians to measure median waiting times in an effort to document the degree to which queues for visits to specialists and for diagnostic and surgical procedures are used to control health care expenditures. The report measures the wait times between referral by a general practitioner and consultation with a specialist, the times between seeing the specialist and receiving elective treatment, and the total wait times from GP referral to elective treatment.

According to the report, wait times between 2010 and 2011 increased in both the delay between referral by a general practitioner to consultation with a specialist (rising to 9.5 weeks from 8.9 weeks in 2010), and the delay between a consultation with a specialist and receiving treatment (rising to 9.5 weeks from 9.3 weeks in 2010).

The report calculates that, in 2011, the average wait for an appointment with a specialist after being referred by a general practitioner was 156 per cent longer than in 1993, and 70 per cent longer to receive treatment after seeing a specialist.

Total waiting time by province

Ontario has the shortest total wait time (the wait between referral by a general practitioner and receiving treatment) among all provinces at 14.3 weeks, up from 14.0 weeks in 2010. British Columbia has the second-shortest total wait at 19.3 weeks, up from 18.8 weeks in 2010. Quebec ranks third at 19.9 weeks, up from 18.8 weeks in 2010, and Alberta fourth at 21.1 weeks, down from 22.1 weeks in 2010.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the median wait time fell to 22.8 weeks from 29.1 weeks in 2010. Manitoba jumped to 25 weeks from 17.5 weeks in 2010 and New Brunswick dropped to 27.5 weeks from 33.6, while Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan each recorded 29 weeks, up from 28.5 weeks and 26.5 weeks, respectively.

Prince Edward Island recorded the longest wait time: 43.9 weeks, down from 44.4 weeks in 2010. Note that the number of survey responses from Canada’s smallest province was lower than most others, which may result in reported median wait times being higher or lower than those actually experienced.

The first wait: Between general practitioner and specialist consultation

The provinces with the shortest wait times between referral by a general practitioner and consultation with a specialist are Ontario (7.2 weeks), Manitoba (7.5 weeks), and British Columbia (9.7 weeks).

The longest waits for consultation with a specialist are found in Prince Edward Island (31.6 weeks), New Brunswick (16.6 weeks), and Nova Scotia (13.3 weeks).

The second wait: Between specialist consultation and treatment

The waiting time between specialist consultation and treatment, the second stage of waiting, is the lowest in Ontario (7.1 weeks), followed by Quebec (9.2 weeks) and British Columbia (9.6 weeks).

The longest waits are found in Saskatchewan (19 weeks), Manitoba (17.5 weeks), and Nova Scotia (15.7 weeks).

Waiting by specialty nationwide


Among the various specialties, the shortest total waits (between referral from a GP and treatment) are for medical oncology (4.2 weeks), radiation oncology (4.6 weeks), and elective cardiovascular surgery (10.3 weeks). Conversely, patients waited longest between a GP referral and plastic surgery (41.6 weeks), orthopedic surgery (39.1 weeks), and neurosurgery (38.3 weeks).

Number of procedures for which people are waiting

Across the 10 Canadian provinces, the total estimated number of procedures for which people waited in 2011 is 941,321—an increase of 14 per cent from the estimated 825,827 procedures in 2010.

Assuming that each person waits for only one procedure, 2.76 per cent of Canadians were waiting for treatment in 2011, which varies from a low of 1.95 per cent in Ontario to a high of 5.74 percent in Saskatchewan.

“Six out of 10 provinces are on pace to spend half of total available revenues on health care by 2017 and at the same time, Canadians are waiting 104 per cent longer for medical procedures than they did in 1993. It’s time for policy makers to embrace sensible reforms that have worked in other industrialized countries with universal-access health care systems.” Rovere said.


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