Research & News
Bookmark and Share

Median wait times for psychiatric treatment in Canada extend to 18.6 weeks in 2008

Media Contacts:
Release Date: October 29, 2008

CALGARY, AB-Canadians seeking psychiatric treatment waited longer in 2008 than they did in 2007, according to research on health care waiting times published by independent research organization The Fraser Institute.

The national median wait time for Canadians seeking psychiatric treatment increased slightly to 18.6 weeks in 2008, an increase from the 18.5 weeks recorded in 2007. This is in contrast to median wait times for surgical treatment which decreased to 17.3 weeks in 2008.

"The national median wait time for psychiatric care measured in 2008 exceeds the longest national median wait time we have ever measured for physical treatment by approximately two days," said Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute Director of Health System Performance Studies and co-author of the 18th annual edition of Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada.

The psychiatric wait times report is contained as an appendix in Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada, the Institute's annual survey of hospital waiting times. The survey measures the median time a patient waits to begin a treatment program after being referred by a general practitioner to a psychiatric specialist.

The shortest overall waiting times were recorded in Manitoba (15.8 weeks), British Columbia (16.3 weeks) and Ontario (17 weeks).

The longest total wait times were recorded in Prince Edward Island (54 weeks), Newfoundland & Labrador (33.3 weeks), and Alberta (29.8 weeks).

Quebec, which had the lowest median psychiatric wait times in 2007 (15.9 weeks), saw wait times increase to 17.2 weeks while Prince Edward Island experienced an astounding 15.3 week increase compared to 2007 when its total wait time was 38. 7 weeks.

The research found that the time spent waiting for treatment after an appointment with a specialist was longer than the wait to see a specialist after GP referral. Prince Edward Island had the longest wait for treatment after seeing a specialist (48 weeks), followed by Newfoundland & Labrador (21.3 weeks), Nova Scotia (19.2 weeks), then Alberta (17.8 weeks).

British Columbia had the shortest wait time between seeing a specialist and receiving treatment (8.3 weeks), followed by Quebec (9. 2 weeks), then Ontario (10 weeks). Across Canada, the median wait time was 10.7 weeks.

Breaking the total waiting time down into its two other components - the wait to see a specialist after referral on an urgent or elective basis - also shows variation among provinces. The median waiting time to see a psychiatrist on an urgent basis was 1.8 weeks in Canada, ranging from one week in Prince Edward Island to two weeks in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Nova Scotia.

The waiting time for referrals on an elective basis for Canada as a whole was 7.9 weeks. The longest waiting time for elective referrals was in Saskatchewan (18 weeks), followed by Alberta, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland & Labrador all at 12 weeks. The shortest wait for an elective referral was in Manitoba (4.5 weeks), followed by Prince Edward Island (six weeks), then Nova Scotia (6.5 weeks).

Among specific treatments surveyed, patients waited longest to enter a housing program (21.3 weeks, up from 18.8 weeks in 2007) or a sleep disorders program (15.7 weeks, down from 16.6 weeks in 2007). Wait times were shortest for pharmacotherapy (4.2 weeks, up from 3.9 weeks in 2007), and admission to a day program (6.6 weeks, down from seven weeks in 2007).

Physicians were also asked to provide clinically reasonable waiting times for various psychiatric treatments. Generally, they reported wait times substantially shorter than what patients are actually waiting. In 97 per cent of cases, the actual median waiting time for treatment is greater than the clinically reasonable median waiting time. Nationally, the actual waiting time is nearly 170 per cent longer than what specialists feel is appropriate.

"Governments across Canada give the appearance of taking action on surgical wait times by defining priority areas and creating wait time guarantees. But they seem to have missed the reality that delays in receiving medical care in Canada are experienced outside of the physical disciplines of medicine. Long wait times for access to medical care are a reality for patients in need of mental health services as well," Esmail said.

"When it comes to mental health, there remains little action and little discussion. Canada's decision makers need to move past the rhetoric and the mistaken belief that more money is the solution to our woes. We need a wholesale re-examination of Canada's overall health care system, one that is not founded in a belief that waiting for health care is a necessary evil Canadians must endure."