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Surgical wait times down but Canadians still waiting more than 17 weeks for treatment

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Release Date: October 7, 2008

CALGARY, AB-The median wait time for Canadians seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment dropped to 17.3 weeks in 2008 from 18.3 weeks in 2007, according to new research published today by independent research organization The Fraser Institute.

"Despite the small improvement, many Canadians are still waiting 121 days or more for necessary medical treatment. Is this something we should be proud of? Absolutely not. A seven day reduction in total waiting times is far removed from the goal of providing timely access to health care," 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.

"Politicians of all political stripes are failing Canadians when it comes to health care. Rather than trying to find real solutions, we're presented with a medical system offering low expectations cloaked in lofty rhetoric."

The hospital waiting list survey measures median waiting times to document the extent 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 seeing a general practitioner and a specialist, the time between seeing the specialist and receiving treatment, and the total wait time.

This year's report shows the main decrease in wait times occurred in the time between a referral from a general practitioner and consultation with a specialist, which decreased to 8.5 weeks from 9.2 weeks.

"This decrease is something physicians and other health care providers have primarily accomplished without targeted government investments. To date governments have paid very little interest in the wait time between general practitioner and seeing a specialist," Esmail said.

"Instead, governments have been focusing on reducing wait times between seeing the specialist or booking the service and receiving treatment."

The 2008 survey shows the median wait time between seeing a specialist and receiving treatment dropped to 8.7 weeks in 2008 from 9.1 weeks in 2007.

Total Waiting Time

Ontario recorded the shortest total wait time (the wait between visiting a general practitioner and receiving treatment), at 13.3 weeks, a decrease from 15 weeks recorded in 2007. British Columbia had the second shortest total wait at 17 weeks, down from 19 weeks in 2007. Manitoba at 17.2 weeks was third, a decrease from the 20.2 weeks in 2007.

Despite the overall decrease in national median waiting times, some provinces experienced increases in total wait times. Saskatchewan has the longest total wait time at 28.8 weeks, an increase from 27.2 in 2007. Nova Scotia jumped to 27.6 weeks from 24.8 in 2007 while Newfoundland & Labrador had the third longest wait time at 24.4 weeks, up from 24.1 weeks in 2007.

Wait times for the other provinces are 24.3 weeks in PEI, down from 24.6 in 2007; 23.1 weeks in New Brunswick, down from 25.2 in 2007; 18.7 weeks in Quebec, down from 19.4 weeks in 2007; and 18.5 weeks in Alberta, down from 19.5 in 2007.

The First Wait: Between General Practitioner and Specialist Consultation

The provinces with the shortest wait times between seeing a GP and consultation with a specialist are Ontario (7 weeks, down from 7.6 in 2007), BC (7.1 weeks, down from 8.8 in 2007), and Manitoba (7.7 weeks, down from 8.2 in 2007).

The longest waits for consultation with a specialist were recorded in Newfoundland & Labrador (13.3 weeks, down from 13.5 in 2007), Saskatchewan (12.7 weeks, up from 10.8 in 2007), and Nova Scotia (12.2 weeks, up from 11.2 in 2007).

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 (6.3 weeks, down from 7.3 in 2007). Quebec is the second lowest (9.3 weeks, down slightly from 9.4 in 2007), with Alberta third at 9.4 weeks, up from 8.9 in 2007.

The longest waits are found in Saskatchewan (16.1 weeks, down from 16.5 in 2007), Nova Scotia (15.4 weeks, up from 13.6 in 2007), with PEI coming third at 13.2 weeks (up from 11.9 in 2007).

Waiting by Specialty

Among the various specialties, the shortest total waits (between referral from a GP and treatment) existed for medical oncology (4.6 weeks), radiation oncology (5.8 weeks), and elective cardiovascular surgery (7.3 weeks). Conversely, patients waited longest between a GP visit and orthopaedic surgery (36.7 weeks), plastic surgery (35.5 weeks), and neurosurgery (31.7 weeks).

There were large decreases between 2007 and 2008 in the waits for internal medicine (down 3.9 weeks), ophthalmology (down 2.2 weeks), otolaryngology (down 2.1 weeks), orthopaedic surgery (down 1.4 weeks), urology (down 1.4 weeks), elective cardiovascular surgery (down 1.1 weeks), while wait times for gynaecology decreased slightly (down 0.3 weeks). These decreases were offset by a deterioration for patients receiving treatment in neurosurgery (up 4.5 weeks), general surgery (up 1.7 weeks), plastic surgery (up 0.7 weeks), medical oncology (up 0.4 weeks), and radiation oncology (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 2008 is 750,794, a decrease of 9.3 per cent from the estimated 827,429 procedures in 2007.

The number of procedures for which people waited fell in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island. Assuming that each person was waiting for only one procedure, 2.28 per cent of Canadians were waiting for treatment in 2008, which varied from a low of 1.6 per cent in Ontario to a high of 4.7 per cent in Nova Scotia.

"Recent polls have identified health care as one of the most important issues for Canadians. Yet during this election campaign, there has been virtually no discussion by the various political parties about what they would do to address the issue of rationing of care and lengthy wait times for treatment in Canada's expensive health care system," Esmail said.

"Compared to 1993, wait times are now 86 per cent longer. It's time for Canada to move past the rhetoric, and the mistaken belief that more money is the solution to our woes, and look at models provided by a number of other developed countries such as Switzerland, where wait times for care are not taken for granted."



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