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Average surgical wait 17.7 weeks in Canada compared to 9.3 weeks in 1993

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Release Date: December 4, 2012

CALGARY, AB—Patients face a median wait of 17.7 weeks for surgical and other therapeutic treatments in Canada, down from 19.0 weeks in 2011, according to the 22nd 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.

On a national basis, median wait times have hovered between 16 and 19 weeks since 2000, following a marked deterioration in wait times during the 1990s when surgical waits grew steadily from 9.3 weeks in 1993 to 14 weeks in 1999. This year’s median wait of 17.7 weeks is 91 per cent longer than in 1993.

“While wait times have improved since last year, Canadians are still forced to wait more than four months, on average, for medically necessary treatment. Physicians, not to mention patients, consider this unreasonable,” said Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute senior fellow and co-author of the report.

“The existing system is broken. Even monumental increases in government health spending have failed to reduce wait times over the past decade. Equally troubling is the fact that Canadians face some of the longest waits for medical treatment in the developed world.”

The Waiting Your Turn report, which is based on a national survey of physicians, 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 2011 and 2012 decreased in both the delay between referral by a general practitioner to consultation with a specialist (dropping to 8.5 weeks from 9.5 weeks in 2011), and the delay between an appointment with a specialist and receiving treatment (dropping slightly to 9.3 weeks from 9.5 weeks in 2011).

The report notes that in 2012, the average wait for an appointment with a specialist after being referred by a general practitioner was 129 per cent longer than in 1993, and 65 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 14.9 weeks, up from 14.3 weeks in 2011. Quebec has the second-shortest total wait time at 16.6 weeks, down from 19.9 weeks. British Columbia ranks third at 17.0 weeks, down from 19.3 weeks, and Alberta fourth at 20.7 weeks, down from 21.1 weeks last year.

In Saskatchewan, the median wait time fell to 23.1 weeks from 29 weeks, while Manitoba dropped to 23.2 weeks from 25 weeks in 2011. Newfoundland and Labrador recorded the next-shortest wait at 26.8 weeks, rising from 22.8 weeks, while Nova Scotia fell to 28.1 weeks from 29 and New Brunswick vaulted to 35.1 weeks from 27.5 last year.

The first wait: Between general practitioner and specialist consultation

The provinces with the shortest wait times between referral by a general practitioner to appointment with a specialist are British Columbia (7.2 weeks), Quebec (7.3 weeks), and Manitoba (7.8 weeks).

The longest waits for consultation with a specialist are in New Brunswick (22.6 weeks), Prince Edward Island (16.9 weeks), and Newfoundland and Labrador (15 weeks).

The second wait: Between specialist consultation and treatment

The wait time between specialist appointment and treatment, the second stage of waiting, is the lowest in Ontario (7.0 weeks), Quebec (9.3 weeks) and British Columbia (9.8 weeks).

The longest waits are found in Nova Scotia (17.6 weeks), Manitoba (15.4 weeks), and New Brunswick (12.5 weeks).

Waiting by specialty nationwide

Among the various specialties, the shortest total waits (between referral from a GP and treatment) are for medical oncology (4.1 weeks), radiation oncology (4.5 weeks), and elective cardiovascular surgery (7.6 weeks).

Patients waited longest between a GP referral and orthopedic surgery (39.6 weeks), plastic surgery (31.5 weeks), and neurosurgery (26.6 weeks).

Number of procedures for which people are waiting

Across all 10 provinces, people were waiting for an estimated 870,462 procedures in 2012.

Assuming that each person waits for only one procedure, 2.5 per cent of Canadians were waiting for medical treatment in 2012, which varies from a low of 1.9 per cent in Ontario to a high of 6.1 per cent in Nova Scotia.

“Despite provincial wait times reduction strategies and levels of health spending that are high both historically and internationally, it is clear that patients in Canada continue to wait too long to receive medically necessary treatment,” Esmail said.

“It’s time our governments embraced meaningful health policy reforms to give Canadians the prompt, high-quality health care they deserve and are already paying for.”



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