The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute

October 15, 2007 06:00 ET

The Fraser Institute: Wait Times for Canadians Needing Surgery Hit an All Time High of More Than 18 Weeks in 2007

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Oct. 15, 2007) - A typical Canadian seeking surgical or other therapeutic treatment had to wait 18.3 weeks in 2007, an all-time high, according to new research published today by independent research organization The Fraser Institute.

"Despite government promises and the billions of dollars funneled into the Canadian health care system, the average patient waited more than 18 weeks in 2007 between seeing their family doctor and receiving the surgery or treatment they required," 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 survey measures median waiting times to document the extent to which queues for visits to specialists and for diagnostic and surgical procedures are used to control health care expenditures. The complete report along with charts showing wait times for all provinces is available at www.fraserinstitute.org.

"It's becoming clearer that Canada's current health care system can not meet the needs of Canadians in a timely and efficient manner, unless you consider access to a waiting list timely and efficient," Esmail added.

The 2007 survey found the total median waiting time for patients between referral from a general practitioner and treatment, averaged across all 12 specialties and 10 provinces surveyed, increased to 18.3 weeks from 17.8 weeks observed in 2006. This is primarily due to an increase in the first wait, between seeing the general practitioner and attending a consultation with a specialist.

Total wait times increased in six provinces: Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. This masked the decreased wait times in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Total Waiting Time

Ontario recorded the shortest waiting time overall (the wait between visiting a general practitioner and receiving treatment), at 15 weeks, followed by British Columbia (19 weeks) and Quebec (19.4 weeks). Saskatchewan (27.2 weeks), New Brunswick (25.2 weeks) and Nova Scotia (24.8 weeks) recorded the longest waits in Canada.

The First Wait: Between General Practitioner and Specialist Consultation

The waiting time between referral by a GP and consultation with a specialist rose to 9.2 weeks from the 8.8 weeks recorded in 2006. The shortest waits for specialist consultations were in Ontario (7.6 weeks), Manitoba (8.2 weeks), and British Columbia (8.8 weeks).

The longest waits for consultation with a specialist were recorded in New Brunswick (14.7 weeks), Newfoundland (13.5 weeks), and Prince Edward Island (12.7 weeks).

The Second Wait: Between Specialist Consultation and Treatment

The waiting time between specialist consultation and treatment-the second stage of waiting-increased to 9.1 weeks from 9 weeks in 2006. The shortest specialist-to-treatment waits were found in Ontario (7.3 weeks), Alberta (8.9 weeks), and Quebec (9.4 weeks), while the longest waits were in Saskatchewan (16.5 weeks), Nova Scotia (13.6 weeks), and Manitoba (12.0 weeks).

Waiting by Specialty

Among the various specialties, the shortest total waits (between referral by a general practitioner and treatment) occurred in medical oncology (4.2 weeks), radiation oncology (5.7 weeks), and elective cardiovascular surgery (8.4 weeks). Patients waited longest between a GP referral and orthopaedic surgery (38.1 weeks), plastic surgery (34.8 weeks), and neurosurgery (27.2 weeks).

Between 2006 and 2007, large increases occurred in the waits for internal medicine (additional 4.9 weeks), gynaecology (additional 2.1 weeks), urology (additional 1.9 weeks), and otolaryngology (additional 1.8 weeks). Smaller increases were noted in the wait times for radiation oncology (up by .7 weeks) and elective cardiovascular surgery (up by .4 weeks). These increases were offset by improvements for patients receiving treatment in neurosurgery (4.5 week decrease), ophthalmology (2.5 week decrease), orthopaedic surgery (2.2 week decrease), medical oncology (.7 week decrease), plastic surgery (.6 week decrease), and general surgery (.5 week decrease).

Waiting for Diagnostic and Therapeutic Technology

As in past years, patients also experienced significant waiting times for various diagnostic technologies across Canada: computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and ultrasound scans.

The median wait for a CT scan across Canada was 4.8 weeks. British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia had the shortest wait for CT scans (4 weeks), while the longest wait occurred in Manitoba (8 weeks). The median wait for an MRI across Canada was 10.1 weeks. Patients in Ontario experienced the shortest wait for an MRI (7.8 weeks), while Newfoundland residents waited longest (20 weeks). The median wait for ultrasound was 3.9 weeks across Canada. Alberta and Ontario displayed the shortest wait for ultrasound (2 weeks), while Prince Edward Island and Manitoba exhibited the longest ultrasound waiting time (10 weeks).

Number of Procedures for Which People are Waiting

Throughout Canada, the total number of procedures for which people are waiting in 2007 is 827,429, an increase of 7.4 per cent from the estimated 770,641 procedures in 2006. The number of procedures for which people waited rose in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. Assuming that each person was waiting for only one procedure, this means 2.54 per cent of Canadians waited for treatment in 2007, which varied from a low of 2.02 per cent in Ontario to a high of 5.01 percent in Saskatchewan.

"The promise of the Canadian health care system is not being realized. A profusion of research shows that cardiovascular surgery queues are routinely jumped by the famous and politically connected and low-income Canadians have less access to health care," Esmail said.

"This grim portrait is the legacy of a medical system offering low expectations cloaked in lofty rhetoric. It's one defended by special interest groups with a stake in maintaining the status quo. The only way to solve the system's most curable disease - lengthy wait times that are consistently and significantly longer than physicians feel is clinically reasonable - is for substantial reform of the Canadian health care system."

The Fraser Institute is an independent research and educational organization based in Canada. 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 www.fraserinstitute.org.

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