Surgery wait times in Canada growing longer: report
Published Monday, December 12, 2011 8:37AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 6:50AM EDT
Canadians who needed surgeries or other treatments in 2011 had to wait longer than they have in close to two decades, says a new report from the Fraser Institute.
The public policy think-tank, which has been tracking wait times since 1993, says that the median wait time for surgery in 2011 jumped to 19 weeks, from 18.2 weeks in 2010. That exceeded the previous all-time high of 18.3 weeks, recorded in 2007.
The report, called "Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada," used survey responses from Canadian physicians to measure median waiting times.
The report measured the wait times between a family doctor referring a patient to a specialist, to the time of the patient actually receiving the treatment.
According to the report, wait times increased in both the delay between referral by a general practitioner to consultation with a specialist (rising to 9.5 weeks from 8.9 weeks in 2010), as well as the delay between a consultation with a specialist and receiving treatment (rising to 9.5 weeks from 9.3 weeks in 2010).
Mark Rovere, Fraser Institute associate director of health policy research and co-author of the report, says despite increases in government health spending, Canadians are still waiting too long to access medically necessary treatment
He says waiting four-and-a-half months, on average, to receive surgical care prolongs a patient's pain and suffering.
"It's time for policy makers to embrace sensible reforms that have worked in other industrialized countries with universal-access health care systems," Rovere said.
Last month, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said wait times in Canada were the highest among 11 developed countries it surveyed. It said that in 2010, 59 per cent of respondents reported waiting four weeks or more to see a specialist, and 25 per cent waited four months or more for elective surgery.
But earlier this year, the Wait Time Alliance, a consortium of national doctors' group, said the provinces and territories deserve a B grade for their efforts to reduce wait times for certain types of medical care.
The group said Canadian hospitals have managed to reduce wait times in five priority areas: cancer care, heart procedures, diagnostic imaging, joint replacement and sight restoration.
However, it also pointed out that one in six hospital beds are taken up by so-called "bed blockers" -- patients who would be better cared for in other facilities. These bed blockers are part of the reason ill patients often wait months for elective or scheduled surgeries, the report concluded.
According to Monday's Fraser Institute report, Ontario has the shortest total wait time among all provinces, at 14.3 weeks, though that's up from 14.0 weeks in 2010.
British Columbia has the second-shortest total wait at 19.3 weeks, up from 18.8 weeks in 2010. Prince Edward Island recorded the longest wait time at 43.9 weeks, but the report authors note that the number of survey responses from the province was lower than most others, which may have influenced the findings.
Among the various specialties, the shortest total waits were for medical oncology (4.2 weeks) and elective cardiovascular surgery (10.3 weeks). Conversely, patients waited longest for orthopedic surgery (39.1 weeks), and neurosurgery (38.3 weeks).