Fraser Forum

Health-care wait times in New Brunswick nearly double national average

Printer-friendly version
Health-care wait times in New Brunswick nearly double national average

According to a recent poll, 70 per cent of New Brunswickers rank health care as the top issue facing the province while just 14 per cent feel the government has done a “good” or “very good” job handling health care.

This should come as no surprise. According to a recent study, New Brunswickers who required medically-necessary surgeries waited 52.6 weeks for treatment—this includes a 26.3-week wait between seeing a general practitioner to seeing a specialist, and a further 26.3 weeks between seeing a specialist and receiving treatment.

While health-care wait times are a problem across Canada, New Brunswickers face longer waits than most Canadians, and unfortunately, the problem is getting worse. Wait times in 2023 were the third-highest in Canada and nearly double the national average. And the province’s wait times have skyrocketed over the last 30 years, from 12.3 weeks in 1993 (when the first national survey was completed) to 52.6 weeks in 2023.

Such long waits come with a large cost. New Brunswickers are waiting for medically-necessary procedures, which means many patients will endure pain, suffering and mental anguish while they wait. Additionally, many patients waiting for treatment will also be unable to work, at a considerable economic cost.

While there’s no doubt the situation is dire, New Brunswickers are not doomed to endure a poorly-performing health-care system in perpetuity. Research has shown that policy lessons from other jurisdictions can help shorten the province’s punishing wait times.

First, it’s important to understand that long wait times are not an inevitable price to pay for universal health-care coverage. Other universal health-care countries have relatively shorter wait times while often spending less on health care as a share of their economy. For example, a much larger percentage of patients in Switzerland (94 per cent), Germany (99 per cent) and Australia (72 per cent) report waiting less than four months for non-emergency surgical care than in Canada (62 per cent).

Canada is also consistently outperformed by these countries for the availability of health-care resources such as physicians, nurses and beds.

What do these countries do differently?

For starters, they embrace the private sector as either a partner or alternative to the public system. Provinces looking to reduce their wait times also have previous examples of similar, albeit more limited, partnerships to learn from. For example, the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative (SSI), launched in 2010, lowered wait times in that province from 26.5 weeks to 14.2 weeks over four years. A major part of the initiative involved partnerships between the provincial government and private clinics to deliver publicly-funded surgeries.

Fortunately, some provincial governments appear to be taking notice. In early 2023, the Higgs government introduced legislation, which allowed for some surgical procedures to be performed in private clinics outside of hospitals. Early evidence from one private clinic in Bathurst has shown a dramatic reduction in the local wait list.

While this is promising, New Brunswick data on wait times remain grim. The government must go much further with reforms to meaningfully reduce wait times around the province.

The bottom line for New Brunswickers is that they must wait basically a year for medically-necessary health-care procedures. Provincial and federal policymakers must learn lessons from other countries, and indeed other provinces, and implement these lessons quickly.

Blog Category: 

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.