Canadians are waiting longer to see a specialist, undergo diagnostic testing and begin treatment for medical problems ranging from orthopedic surgery to cancer, according to a new report, despite recent government pledges to reduce patient wait times.

In its annual report, “Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada,” the Fraser Institute said the median wait time in 2013 hit 18.2 weeks, three days longer than in 2012. Twenty years ago, the average wait time for treatment in Canada was 9.3 weeks.

Specifically, the average wait time for orthopedic surgery reached 39.6 weeks for treatment, while patients waited an average 17.4 weeks for an appointment with a neurosurgeon.

Cancer patients needing radiation experienced the shortest wait times for treatment, at about 3.5 weeks.

The report estimates that about one in 34 Canadians “may be in pain, off work, or suffering from depression as they wait their turn for treatment.”

"Canada is effectively reneging on its promise of universal healthcare for those citizens forced to endure these long waits,” Bacchus Barua, Fraser Institute senior health policy analyst and the report's lead author, said in a statement.

“Simply putting someone on a list is not the same as providing necessary medical attention in a timely manner.”

Co-author Nadeem Esmail, the institute’s director of health policy studies, said longer wait times are not the result of insufficient health care spending.

“Wait times can be considerably reduced without higher spending or abandoning universality,” Esmail said in a statement.

“The key is to better understand the health policy experiences of other more successful universal access health care systems around the developed world such as Australia or Switzerland.”

The study’s results are based on data gleaned from a survey sent to Canadian physicians practicing in 12 specialties. It is sent to doctors in all provinces.

The survey measures wait times from a GP’s referral to treatment, wait times between GP referral and consultation with a specialist, the wait time between seeing a specialist and receiving treatment, and wait times for tests such as MRIs, CT scans and ultrasounds.

According to the latest report, the delay between:

  • GP referral and specialist consultation increased to 8.6 weeks in 2013, up from 8.5 week in 2012.
  • Specialist consultation and treatment increased to 9.6 weeks from 9.3 weeks in 2012.

By province

According to the report, the province with the shortest wait times from GP referral to treatment was Ontario. Patients there waited an average of 13.7 weeks in 2013, down from 14.9 weeks in 2012. On the other end of the spectrum patients in Prince Edward Island waited about a year, 40.1 weeks, between referral and treatment.

The report also found that wait times to see a specialist increased in seven provinces between 2012 and 2013, but decreased in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The shortest wait times to see a specialist were in:

  • Ontario, at 6.7 weeks.
  • Quebec, 7.4 weeks.
  • Manitoba, 8.1 weeks.

The longest wait times to see a specialist were in:

  • P.E.I., 24.9 weeks.
  • New Brunswick, 20.3 weeks.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador, 14.0 weeks.

Overall, the report said, Canadians across the 10 provinces were waiting for about 928,120 procedures, up 57,658 procedures from 2012.

"These lengthy delays have real and important effects on Canadians' health and wellbeing, imposing pain and suffering, mental anguish, lost productivity at work and leisure, and possibly even disability and death," Barua said.