Jennifer White’s seizures strike without warning, leaving the 26-year-old at significant risk of injury.

The sound of running water is a seizure trigger. Everyone in her family is very worried.

But when White finally got a referral to an epilepsy specialist in Toronto, her mother was shocked. The date for the appointment is in April 2018.

“We have to wait over a year, and anything can happen, she can hurt herself,” said Kelly White. “It’s horrific. They have no idea what we go through. It’s very frustrating and it makes me very angry.”

A new report suggests Canadians have the longest wait times for medical attention in emergency departments and for referrals to specialists among patients in 11 industrialized countries.

The report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found Canadians experienced the longest delays to see specialists, with 56 per cent waiting longer than four weeks, compared with the international average of 36 per cent.

Twenty-nine per cent of Canadians said they had to wait four hours or longer to be seen by a health-care provider during their most recent emergency department visit. That's almost three times the international average of 11 per cent. Patients in France fared the best, with just one per cent having to wait four hours or longer.

The report is based on 2016 surveys of adults in 11 developed countries compiled by the Commonwealth Fund, a private U.S. foundation that promotes high-quality and accessible health care.

The identification of timely access is one that doesn’t surprise us because we have seen the same issues in the 2010 and 2013 Commonwealth Fund surveys, so the trend continues,” said Tracy Johnson, CIHI’s director of health systems analysis and emerging issues.

Dr. Chris Simpson, the former president of the Canadian Medical Association and a professor of medicine at Queens University, said he would encourage Canadians to become vocal about lengthy wait times. 

“I have long been a believer that public reporting is the only way to build a sense of urgency,” he said.

“What I tell people is you need to be more upset about this. People individually all have wait time stories but they are so grateful to have this health care system that they believe it is the price you have to pay to have the health care system we have,” he said.

A surprising finding is that despite the delays, almost three-quarters of Canadians rated the quality of care as very good or excellent -- significantly higher than the international average. That suggests the care is good once patients see their doctor.

Experts say the factors causing long waits are complex – an aging population, seniors who sit in hospital beds because there are no nursing home beds available, physician scheduling issues, among others.   

Some provinces are trying to improve wait times, providing more group health clinics that offer evening and weekend health care. Saskatchewan also recently tackled surgical wait times, bringing 90 per cent of surgeries down to a three-month wait or less, said Dr. Simpson.

With files from The Canadian Press