The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute

November 19, 2007 06:00 ET

The Fraser Institute: Medical Wait Lists Extend to Psychiatric Treatment; Canadians Waited More Than 18 Weeks for Care in 2007

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Nov. 19, 2007) - Canadians seeking psychiatric treatment faced the same lengthy wait times as patients waiting for surgical treatment in 2007, according to additional research on health care waiting times published by independent research organization The Fraser Institute.

The overall national wait time for Canadians seeking psychiatric treatment stretched to 18.5 weeks in 2007 compared to 18.3 weeks for surgical treatment, which itself was an all time high.

"We found that wait times for psychiatric treatment are just as bad as those for surgical treatments and yet the plight of these patients is often overlooked in discussions surrounding the rationing of health care in Canada," said Nadeem Esmail, Director of Health System Performance Studies at The Fraser Institute and co-author of the 17th annual edition of Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada.

The psychiatric wait times report is contained as an appendix in Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada, the Institute's annual survey of hospital waiting times. The survey measures the median time a patient waits to begin a treatment program after being referred by a general practitioner to a psychiatric specialist. The complete report along with charts showing wait times for all provinces is available at

The total wait time for Canada as a whole for psychiatry rose to 18.5 weeks in 2007 from 17.5 weeks in 2006. The shortest waiting times were recorded in Quebec (15.9 weeks), Ontario (16.7 weeks), and British Columbia (20.2 weeks). The longest total waits were found in Newfoundland (39.2 weeks), Prince Edward Island (38.7 weeks), and Alberta (26.7 weeks).

Breaking waiting time down into its two components, there is also variation among provinces. The waiting time to see a psychiatrist on an urgent basis was two weeks in Canada, ranging from one week in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to three weeks in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland.

The waiting time for referrals on an elective basis for Canada as a whole was eight weeks. The longest waiting times for elective referrals was in Newfoundland (19 weeks), followed by Saskatchewan (13 weeks), and New Brunswick and Alberta (11 weeks). The shortest wait for an elective referral was in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec (seven weeks), followed by Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (eight weeks), and British Columbia (10 weeks).

With regard to the wait time for certain psychiatric treatments after an appointment with a specialist, the longest waiting times were found in Prince Edward Island (30.7 weeks), Newfoundland (20.2 weeks), and Alberta (15.7 weeks), while the shortest waits were found in Quebec (8.9 weeks), Ontario (9.7 weeks), and British Columbia (10.2 weeks). The waiting time for Canada as a whole was 10.5 weeks.

Among specific treatments surveyed, patients waited longest to enter a housing program (18.8 weeks) or a sleep disorders program (16.6 weeks), while the wait times were shortest for pharmacotherapy (3.9 weeks), and admission to a day program (7.0 weeks).

As part of the survey, physicians were also asked to provide clinically reasonable waiting times for various psychiatric treatments. Generally, they reported wait times substantially shorter than what patients are actually waiting. In 96 per cent of cases, the actual waiting time for treatment is greater than the clinically reasonable median waiting time. Nationally, the actual waiting time exceeds the clinically reasonable wait time by 167 per cent.

"With each passing week, it becomes more obvious that the deterioration in Canada's public health care program is not confined to just surgical treatments or the five priority areas that governments across the country are now focusing on," Esmail said.

"With waiting times that are more than 165 per cent longer than specialists feel is appropriate, it is clear that a great many patients in need of psychiatric attention are facing the effects of rationing in our health care system and experiencing a deterioration of their condition before they get the care they need."

Nadeem Esmail, Director of Health System Performance Studies
The Fraser Institute, Tel. (403) 216-7175 ext: 222

The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization with offices in Calgary, Montreal, Tampa, Toronto, and Vancouver. Its mission is to measure, study, and communicate the impact of competitive markets and government intervention on the welfare of individuals. To protect the Institute's independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit

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