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Surgical wait times jump to 18.2 weeks, second longest ever as all provinces record greater delays for treatment

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Release Date: December 6, 2010
VANCOUVER, BC—Canadians seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment faced a median wait time of 18.2 weeks in 2010, the first increase since 2007 and the second-longest wait time recorded, according to a new report from the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think-tank.

“The wait times recorded in 2010 were exceeded only by the 18.3-week wait time recorded in 2007. After two years of decreasing wait times, the country has done an about-face,” said Mark Rovere, Fraser Institute associate director of health policy research and co-author of the 20th annual edition of Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada.

“The fact that Canadians are now waiting more than 127 days for medically necessary treatment is alarming. Unfortunately, too many politicians continue to cling to the fundamentally broken system while dismissing critical policy reforms that could help ease patients’ physical and emotional suffering as they wait for 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 2009 and 2010 increased in both the delay between referral by a general practitioner to consultation with a specialist (rising to 8.9 weeks from 8.2 weeks in 2009), and the delay between a consultation with a specialist and receiving treatment (rising to 9.3 weeks from 8.0 weeks in 2009).

“Canadians today are waiting, on average, 141 per cent longer than in 1993 for consultation with a specialist after referral by a general practitioner, and 66 per cent longer to receive treatment after specialist consultation. This paints a grim forecast for the future,” Rovere said.  

Total waiting time

The nationwide deterioration in access to surgical and other therapeutic treatment reflects wait-time increases in all 10 provinces. Ontario recorded the shortest total wait time (the wait between referral by a general practitioner and receiving treatment) at 14.0 weeks, up from 12.5 weeks in 2009. Manitoba had the second-shortest total wait at 17.5 weeks, up from 14.3 weeks in 2009. Quebec and British Columbia tied for third at 18.8 weeks, Quebec’s median wait increasing from 16.6 weeks and B.C.’s from 17.0 weeks in 2009.

Alberta saw its median wait time increase to 22.1 weeks from 19.6 weeks in 2009, Saskatchewan rose to 26.5 weeks from 25.2 weeks in 2009, Nova Scotia jumped to 28.5 weeks from 23.1 weeks, while Newfoundland & Labrador increased to 29.1 weeks from 27.3 in 2009.

Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick recorded the longest wait times (44.4 weeks and 33.6 weeks, respectively). Note that the number of survey responses from these provinces was lower than most provinces 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 Saskatchewan (6.7 weeks), Ontario (7.8 weeks), and British Columbia (8.2 weeks).

The longest waits for consultation with a specialist are found in New Brunswick (24.6 weeks), Prince Edward Island (22.0 weeks), and Newfoundland & Labrador (14.7 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 (6.2 weeks), followed by Manitoba (8.9 weeks) and New Brunswick (9.0 weeks).

The longest waits are found in Prince Edward Island (22.4 weeks), Saskatchewan (19.7 weeks), and Nova Scotia (15.5 weeks).

Waiting by specialty

Among the various specialties, the shortest total waits (between referral from a GP and treatment) exist for medical oncology (4.9 weeks), radiation oncology (5.5 weeks), and elective cardiovascular surgery (10.0 weeks). Conversely, patients waited longest between a GP referral and orthopedic surgery (35.6 weeks), plastic surgery (31.5 weeks), and neurosurgery (29.7 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 2010 is 825,827—an increase of 19 per cent from an estimated 694,161 procedures in 2009.

Assuming that each person waited for only one procedure, 2.45 per cent of Canadians waited for treatment in 2010, which varied from a low of 1.63 per cent in Ontario to a high of 4.97 per cent in Saskatchewan.

“Despite huge hikes in health spending, Canadians are waiting 96 per cent longer for surgery than they did in 1993,” Rovere said.

“Health care in Canada is being rationed and our current system fails to provide Canadians with timely access to treatment. Simply throwing more money at health care is not the answer. Decision makers in Canada must summon the courage to experiment with policies used successfully in other countries, such as cost-sharing, competition and consumer choice.”


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