Nova Scotians still face longest health-care wait times in Canada

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Appeared in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, April 21, 2024
Nova Scotians still face longest health-care wait times in Canada

The Houston government has placed great emphasis on health care, engaging in a full battery of health-care policy reforms. This should come as no surprise given that 72 per cent of Nova Scotians recently ranked health care as the province’s top issue—the highest share in the country.

Unfortunately, despite the intense focus, patients seeking care in the province still endure the longest wait in the country for surgical care. According to a new study, in 2023 Nova Scotians endured a median wait of 56.7 weeks between a referral from a family doctor (for an appointment with a specialist) and the receipt of treatment.

For reference, this wait was more than twice the national average (27.7 weeks), two-and-a-half times longer than the median wait in Ontario (which had the shortest wait in the country), and almost five times longer than the wait Nova Scotians endured in 1993 when the first study on national waits was published.

To be fair, it's not like the Houston government hasn't tried to reduce wait times. Since 2021, the government has initiated an array of reforms ranging from building a new medical school in Cape Breton, engaging in recruitment and retention efforts for health-care workers, centralizing patient records, continuing the building new hospital infrastructure, and even engaging in limited partnerships with private clinics.

The province’s long waits are not due to a lack of spending either. In fact, according to estimates from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Nova Scotia government will spend $6,452 per person on health care in 2023, the second-highest level among all provinces. More broadly, this year’s provincial budget increased health spending by $1.4 billion or 11.5 per cent.

But, in the end, what are the tangible results for the potentially billions of dollars of spending on all these major projects and reforms?

In short, not much, at least not yet. In the meantime, even patients who’ve already seen a specialist and are waiting for treatment frequently wait longer than what physicians consider reasonable, depending on the specialty. And most Nova Scotians have no alternative for faster treatment.

Herein lies the problem. However laudable the goals of the Houston government, no matter how ambitious the scale of its reforms, without a fundamental break from the past, Nova Scotians are unlikely to see long-term improvement in the unacceptable waits patients have endured for years. Simply put, the government must do things differently and not spend ever-greater sums of money with little results.

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