Health care wait times hit 20 weeks in 2016: report
A survey by the Fraser Institute found a median wait of 20 weeks for “medically necessary” treatments and procedures in 2016 – the longest-recorded wait time since the think tank began tracking wait times.
That’s more than double the wait times reported in 1993, when the right-leaning think tank began tracking the issue in Canada.
The survey looked at total wait times faced by patients starting from the time they received a referral from a general practitioner, to the consultation with a specialist, to “when the patient ultimately receives treatment.”
At 38.8 weeks, New Brunswick recorded the longest wait time among Canadian provinces.
Ontario recorded the shortest wait time at 15.6 weeks, however that province’s median wait rose from 14.2 weeks in 2015.
Median wait time by province in 2016:
- New Brunswick: 38.8 weeks
- Nova Scotia: 34. 8
- P.E.I: 31.4
- Newfoundland and Labrador: 26
- British Columbia: 25.2
- Alberta: 22.9
- Manitoba: 20.6
- Quebec: 18.9
- Saskatchewan: 16.6
- Ontario: 15.6
In terms of specialized treatment, national wait times were longest for neurosurgery (46.9 weeks) and shortest for medical oncology (3.7 weeks).
- Neurosurgery: 46.9 weeks
- Orthopaedic surgery: 38
- Ophthalmology: 28.5
- Plastic Surgery: 25.9
- Otolaryngology: 22.7
- Gynaecology: 18.8
- Urology: 16.2
- Internal medicine: 12.9
- Radiation oncology: 4.1
- General surgery: 12.1
- Cardiovascular: 8.4
- Medical oncology: 3.7
In a statement announcing the survey’s results, the institute estimated that Canadians are currently waiting for nearly one million “medically necessary” procedures.
“Crucially, physicians report that their patients are waiting more than three weeks longer for treatment (after seeing a specialist) than what they consider to be clinically reasonable,” the statement read.
Prior to 2016, the longest recorded median wait time was in 2011, at 19 weeks.
In an interview on CTV News Channel on Wednesday, Canadian Doctors for Medicare Chair Monika Dutt expressed concern over how the Fraser Institute collected data for the wait times study, saying she believes there are “a lot of flaws” in the research.
She nevertheless acknowledged that “there are concerns” about wait times in Canada.
“Some places are definitely better than others places, but there has been a lot of effort that has been put into being able to accurately measure wait times, which we need to do well in order to adjust the problems,” Dutt said.
What’s the solution?
As a family doctor, Dutt said she sees a “whole host” of different reasons for varying wait times across the country, including how physicians prioritize the care of their patients and access to resources in different provinces.
However, there are “lots of things” happening in Canada to make those wait times shorter, Dutt said, adding that the medical community has seen wait times go down “significantly” in places that have centralized their referral process.
“Often, as a family doc, I send off a referral to one doctor, I don’t know their wait times,” she said. “One of the best things that we can do is centralize that and have all the people needing care going to a centralized place so the first doctor that’s available sees that patient.”
Michael Decter, chair of the advocacy group Patients Canada, told CTV’s Power Play that simply pouring more money into the system won’t fix it.
His proof, he said, is that the federal government has increased health transfers to provinces by six per cent a year for more than a decade, yet wait times have gotten worse.
“It’s about innovation, it’s about accountability, it’s about focus and it’s about transparency,” he said. “It’s not about more money.”
One idea that Decter said “frankly frightens and offends many people who manage the health care system (but) is actually a very good idea,” is a “safety guarantee.” Under that scenario, provincial plans would be forced to pay for residents who have been waiting too long for surgeries to have them done in other provinces or even countries where the wait times are acceptable.
Dr. Brian Day, a former president of the CMA, agreed that the problem isn’t a lack of funding.
“The studies around the world show that Canada is one of the biggest spenders but down at the bottom in access and quality,” he said.
The real problem, according to Day, is the government monopoly on insuring medically-necessary care, which leads to rationing of doctors and services, and “no accountability.”
Day has frequently pointed out that the only other country with such a monopoly is North Korea.
He is suing the B.C. government over it ban on the purchase of private insurance for medically necessary services, arguing that the Supreme Court has already ruled in Quebec that such bans unconstitutional.
Day argues that allowing private insurance would ease pressure on the public health care system and therefore reduce wait times.
Canadian Doctors for Medicare, on the other hand, claims it would lead to two-tier health care where wealthier people get seen much quicker.
In a statement Wednesday, the Canadian Medical Association said that long wait times are typically a “symptom of poor health system performance or poor co-ordination between systems that need to be addressed.”
The association reiterated its call for governments to prioritize seniors care in the upcoming Health Accord, which it said would “go a long way in resolving unnecessary wait times for Canadian patients.”