The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute

October 28, 2013 06:15 ET

The Fraser Institute: Why Are We Waiting So Long? Health Care Wait Times Nearly Double Over the Past Two Decades to 18.2 Weeks

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - Oct. 28, 2013) - Canadians are waiting months on average for close to a million medically necessary elective surgeries and diagnostic tests right now, according to the 23rd annual edition of Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada, released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

"These protracted wait times exist not because of insufficient spending, but because of poor policy. Wait times can be considerably reduced without higher spending or abandoning universality. 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," said Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute director of health policy studies and the report's co-author.

In 2013, those requiring orthopaedic surgery were forced to endure waits of more than nine months (39.6 weeks) to receive treatment, while others had to wait for slightly more than four months (17.4 weeks) just to receive an appointment with a neurosurgeon. On the other hand, cancer patients in line for radiation therapy faced the shortest expected wait times for treatment after referral by a general practitioner (3.5 weeks).

Currently, one in 34 Canadians may be in pain, off work, or suffering from depression as they wait their turn for treatment.

The 2013 median waiting time of 18.2 weeks is about three days longer than 2012, and substantially longer than 1993 when it was just 9.3 weeks.

"Canada is effectively reneging on its promise of universal healthcare for those citizens forced to endure these long waits. Simply putting someone on a list is not the same as providing necessary medical attention in a timely manner," said Bacchus Barua, Fraser Institute senior health policy analyst and the report's lead author.

Waiting Your Turn: Wait Times for Health Care in Canada is Canada's only national, comparable, and comprehensive measurement of wait times for medically necessary health care. Its results are based on an annual survey sent to physicians practising in 12 specialties in each of Canada's 10 provinces. It measures the total wait times from a general practitioner referral to treatment, the wait times between GP referral and consultation with a specialist, the wait times between seeing the specialist and receiving treatment, as well as waits for MRI, CT, and ultrasound scans.

In 2013, the delay between GP referral and specialist consultation increased slightly, to 8.6 weeks from 8.5 weeks in 2012 (132 per cent longer than in 1993, when it was 3.7 weeks). The delay from specialist consultation to treatment increased to 9.6 weeks from 9.3 weeks in 2012 (71 per cent longer than in 1993, when it was 5.6 weeks).

Total waiting time by province

Among the provinces, Ontario boasts the shortest total wait from GP referral to treatment. While the province has shrunk its waits more than a week to 13.7 weeks in 2013 from 14.9 weeks in 2012, the wait time remains 51 per cent longer than in 1993. By contrast, citizens wait the better part of a year in Prince Edward Island (40.1 weeks), from referral to treatment.

Charts detailing wait times in each province can be found in the report.

The first wait: Between general practitioner and specialist consultation

The waiting time to see a specialist has increased in seven provinces since 2012 but has decreased in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The shortest waits for specialist consultations are in Ontario (6.7 weeks), Quebec (7.4 weeks), and Manitoba (8.1 weeks). The longest waits for specialist consultations occur in Prince Edward Island (24.9 weeks), New Brunswick (20.3 weeks), and Newfoundland and Labrador (14.0 weeks).

The second wait: Between specialist consultation and treatment

The shortest specialist-to-treatment waits are found in Ontario (7.1 weeks), Newfoundland and Labrador (9.6 weeks) and Quebec and British Columbia (10.4 weeks each). Those in Manitoba (17.8 weeks), Prince Edward Island (15.3 weeks), and Saskatchewan (14.1 weeks) faced the longest waits.

Number of procedures for which people are waiting

Across 10 provinces in 2013, people were waiting for an estimated 928,120 procedures - 57,658 more than in 2012.

Assuming that each person waits for only one procedure, 2.7 per cent of Canadians are waiting for medical treatment in 2013, which varies from a low of two per cent in Ontario to a high of 4.5 per cent in Manitoba.

"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.

"Other countries with universal health care systems spend less than we do and don't force citizens to wait like this. It's time Canada adopted some of the policies that allow nations like Australia, Switzerland and Sweden to provide more timely access to quality universal care," added Esmail.

For proposed solutions to Canada's wait times crisis, see the Fraser Institute's recent book Reducing Wait Times for Health Care: What Canada Can Learn from Theory and International Experience, released October 8. It can be downloaded for free at fraserinstitute.com/.

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The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global network of 86 think-tanks. 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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