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Despite substantial spending increases, surgical wait times no shorter in 2009 than 2000-2001

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Release Date: October 29, 2009

CALGARY, AB-Canadians seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment are enduring a median wait time of 16.1 weeks, roughly the same delay they experienced in 2000-2001, even though governments have made substantial increases in health care spending since then, according to the Fraser Institute's annual report on hospital wait times.

"After nearly 10 years of spending increases, Canadians are still waiting 113 days, on average, for medically necessary treatment, just as in 2000-2001. While that wait time is shorter than it was last year, it is still a far cry from what Canadians should expect from their expensive health care program," said Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute Director of Health System Performance Studies and author of the 19th annual edition of Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada .

"Throwing more money at a fundamentally broken system will not solve the wait time problem. Canadians deserve health care they can depend on, and it's time for politicians of all political stripes to admit the current system is a failure."

The hospital waiting list survey measures median waiting times 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 treatment, and the total wait times from GP referral to treatment.

This year's report shows the main decrease in wait times occurred in the time between a consultation with a specialist and receiving treatment, which decreased to 8.0 weeks from 8.7 weeks in 2008.

"While this is indeed an improvement since 2008, our research shows this delay for treatment is well above what health care professionals would consider clinically reasonable, which is a median wait of 5.8 weeks," said Esmail. 

According to the report, the median wait time to see a specialist after a referral from a general practitioner also dropped since last year from 8.5 weeks to 8.2. 

Total waiting time

Ontario recorded the shortest total wait time (the wait between referral by a general practitioner and receiving treatment), at 12.5 weeks, a decrease from 13.3 weeks in 2008. Manitoba had the second shortest total wait at 14.3 weeks, down from 17.2 weeks in 2008. Quebec at 16.6 weeks was third, a decrease from 18.7 weeks in 2008.

Despite the overall decrease in national median waiting times since 2008, some provinces experienced increases in total wait times. Newfoundland & Labrador had the longest total wait time at 27.3 weeks, an increase from 24.4 in 2008. PEI jumped to 26.7 weeks from 24.3 in 2008 while New Brunswick had the third longest wait time at 25.8 weeks, up from 23.1. Alberta rose to 19.6 weeks, up from 18.5 in 2008.

Wait times for the other provinces are 25.2 weeks in Saskatchewan, down from 28.8 in 2008; 23.1 weeks in Nova Scotia, down from 27.6 in 2008; and 17.0 weeks in British Columbia, the same as last year.

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 Manitoba (6.3 weeks), Ontario (6.7 weeks), and BC (7.8 weeks).

The longest waits for consultation with a specialist were recorded in PEI (14.5 weeks), New Brunswick (14.3 weeks), and Newfoundland & Labrador (14.0 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 (5.8 weeks). Manitoba is the second lowest (8.0 weeks), and Quebec is third at 8.2 weeks.

The longest waits are found in Saskatchewan (14.0 weeks), Newfoundland & Labrador (13.2 weeks), and PEI at 12.2 weeks.

Waiting by specialty

Among the various specialties, the shortest total waits (between referral from a GP and treatment) existed for radiation oncology (4.8 weeks), medical oncology (5.1 weeks), and elective cardiovascular surgery (8.2 weeks). Conversely, patients waited longest between a GP referral and orthopedic surgery (33.7 weeks), neurosurgery (32.9 weeks), and plastic surgery (29.9 weeks).

There were large decreases between 2008 and 2009 in the waits for plastic surgery (down 5.6 weeks), ophthalmology (down 3.4 weeks), orthopedic surgery (down 3.0 weeks), radiation oncology (down 1.0 week), and general surgery (down 0.9 weeks), while wait times for internal medicine decreased slightly (down 0.2 weeks). These decreases were offset by a deterioration for patients receiving treatment in otolaryngology (up 1.2 weeks), neurosurgery (up 1.2 weeks), elective cardiovascular surgery (up 0.8 weeks), urology (up 0.6 weeks), medical oncology (up 0.5 weeks), and gynecology (up 0.1 weeks).

Number of procedures for which people are waiting

Throughout Canada, the total number of procedures for which people are waiting in 2009 is 694,161, a decrease of 7.5 per cent from the estimated 750,794 procedures in 2008.

Assuming that each person was waiting for only one procedure, 2.08 per cent of Canadians were waiting for treatment in 2009, which varied from a low of 1.49 per cent in Ontario to a high of 4.29 per cent in Newfoundland & Labrador.

"In spite of large increases in health spending, Canadians are waiting 73 per cent longer for surgery than they did in 1993. Clearly, Canada needs to adopt the health care approaches of other developed countries, like Switzerland for example, where wait times for care are not taken for granted. It's about time Canadians stop overpaying for a defective system and start getting the timely access to health care they need, deserve, and are already paying for," said Esmail.



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